Op-ed | America, we have a problem: Helping Houston and the space economy

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With the closure during Hurricane Harvey of the Johnson Space Center, which employs 10,000 people, in addition to the losses suffered by the Houston Independent School District (HISD), which has 283 schools and 213,000 students, and with a population in excess of six million people and a gross domestic product of $503 billion, the shutdown of the country’s fourth largest city offered an unmistakable message to the country from Houston: “America, we have a problem.”

The response to Hurricane Harvey is massive, showcasing the courage of countless Americans and the sacrifices of many whose names we may never know. We stand with the residents of Houston, in principle and practice, because the city is vital to the lifeblood of America.

That means we must also help two of the city’s major research universities, the University of Houston and Rice University. The latter is of particular significance, given the use of its stadium (in 1962) as the venue for the White House’s promise of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.

The words resonate still: “We choose to go to the moon.”

Let us, therefore, issue a new pledge for a new era of space-based research: “We choose to rebuild Houston, for the good of the nation and the greatness of education in general.”

We choose to do these things because we cannot have a first-rate space program without ensuring “Space City” has first-class status. That means we have the chance to highlight the importance, economically and educationally, of a STEM-centric curriculum for teachers and students in Houston and the U.S. as a whole.

The timing of this moment is the result of a tragedy we have yet to fully process, as few have had the time to grieve, as many cannot afford to take the time to mourn, and as all need time to recover from this trauma to the psyche and the body politic. But recover we must, and recover we shall.

That recovery begins with investing schools with the same enthusiasm that greeted the reopening of the Johnson Space Center. That’s because this issue is no longer an academic matter, though it matters indisputably to the academic quality of education in Houston. For the tragedy of yesterday is an invitation to triumph tomorrow — to triumph by having students see their experiments, and their goals they set for their future selves, soar from the Earth to the heavens, where this journey continues aboard the International Space Station and beyond.

By starting anew, HISD can be model for how schools partner with universities, nonprofits and area scientists to bring space-based research to an entire city. There is no reason, after all, for teachers and principals to resume the programs of the past or fund a curriculum that is inadequate today, never mind insufficient for the demands of the future.

This situation requires us to rally, as a community, because we are all Houstonians, we are all Americans.

Let us apply that spirit to a community that deserves the best we can offer, making space exploration a right for teachers to emphasize and a rite of passage for students to enjoy.

Houston, we hear you loud and clear.

Carie Lemack is the Cofounder and CEO of DreamUp, the first company bringing space into classrooms and classrooms into space. A former national security policy expert/advocate and producer of an Academy Award-nominated film, Carie is a proud alumna of Space Camp and supporter of all space cadets reaching for the stars.