Rice hosts International Space University’s Space Studies Program as attendees prepare to explore moon, Mars and beyond

ISU opening ceremony 2024

More than 200 space industry professionals from over 30 countries gathered at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy on June 10 for the opening ceremony of the 36th annual International Space University’s (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP). The evening commenced with bearers carrying the flags of each represented nation one by one down the center aisle, symbolic of space exploration’s potential to build global unity and collaboration.

“A true space education is interdisciplinary, international and intercultural,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at the event via a prerecorded video. “Space has the power to build international partnerships among nations and the private sector. New things are possible. More things are possible.”

ISU opening ceremony 2024
More than 200 space industry professionals from over 30 countries gathered at the Baker Institute for Public Policy for the opening ceremony of ISU's SSP. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University.

The SSP, which runs for eight weeks through Aug. 3, is an intensive educational and training program held annually in different cities across the globe. The program offers an expansive curriculum designed to broaden participants’ knowledge base of the space sector. Attendees cover both technical and nontechnical aspects of the industry in an international, intercultural and interdisciplinary environment through courses, hands-on learning modules and networking opportunities.

SSP participants will also venture off campus to visit the Johnson Space Center, the hub of NASA’s human spaceflight activities pioneering the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.

This year marks the second time Rice has hosted the ISU program, the first being in 1997. The learning experience attendees will gain from the SSP program will help propel them to meet the challenges of future space missions, Nelson said.

“Humanity is knocking on the door of a great and dazzling new chapter in the stars. We’re going to return to the moon and go further to Mars and beyond, and we’re going to get there using science and technology that today does not exist,” Nelson told this year’s participants. “The generation that is going to walk on Mars? It’s going to be you.”

Rice and NASA

Rice President Reginald DesRoches welcomed the attendees via a prerecorded video highlighting Rice’s long history with NASA and the nation’s space program. He highlighted President John F. Kennedy’s historic 1962 speech at Rice Stadium, challenging the United States to become “the world’s greatest space-faring nation.”

“President Kennedy called the exploration of space one of the great adventures of all time,” DesRoches said in the video. “As Houston’s history shows, giant leaps start here. We are proud to partner with our friends at NASA Johnson Space Center as Rice welcomes ISU to Houston for a summer of great adventure.”

Rice has been a key partner with NASA since the founding of the U.S. space program. The university’s graduates and researchers have played crucial roles in every NASA spaceflight mission to date. Rice’s first research collaboration with NASA began in 1959, just months after the agency was founded.

In 1961, thanks in part to Rice alumni George R. Brown and U.S. Rep. Albert Thomas, Houston’s transformation to “Space City USA” began when it was named the site of the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center, now known as Johnson Space Center. When Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969, they carried a lunar dust detector experiment designed by Rice professor Brian O’Brien.

ISU opening ceremony 2024
The SSP is an intensive educational and training program held annually in different cities across the globe. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University.

“Rice is a historic campus, and Space City deserves its name,” David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy, director of the Rice Space Institute and a member of the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium, told the crowd.

An ‘Incredible time’ for space exploration

As NASA plans to return to the moon and eventually reach Mars, interdisciplinary education such as the SSP is key to preparing students for these challenges, said Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center.

Wyche highlighted NASA’s partnerships with companies such as Boeing and SpaceX and the agency’s upcoming missions under the Artemis program. She also emphasized the importance of curious minds in maintaining NASA’s mission and inspiring the world through discovery.

“You are here at an incredible time,” she said, noting NASA’s ongoing efforts and collaborations with international partners.

More than 200 NASA managers, scientists, engineers and astronauts have completed the ISU program, Wyche added.

“This is an amazing opportunity that we’re proud to be a part of, and it’s an opportunity for the next generation of leaders — you, the Artemis generation,” Wyche said.

International Space University

Founded in 1987, ISU is based in Strasbourg, France, and is the world’s only university devoted entirely to space education. ISU has U.S. and Asia-Pacific hubs, partnerships with leading space organizations and a global network of alumni that includes astronauts, entrepreneurs and current and former space industry and government leaders.

“The program will change your way of thinking about space. It’s also a life-changing experience,” said Nicolas Peter, president of ISU. “You will learn about all facets of space needed for your next step in your career, make lifelong partnerships and friends, and enjoy Houston.”