I spent Memorial Day weekend at the International Space Development Conference in the Dallas area held by the National Space Society. I’ve never been to one of these space exploration advocate conferences before, but I get notifications of them - a hold over I think from subscribing to something or other in the dim past. I’ve contemplated attending before, but that’s spendy. So why did I go this year? Why clean out the savings account, accost the parents for funds and go to the flattest spot on the continent? My 15 year old son wants to be a space rocket/vehicle engineer, and recent events dictated that it was time to ease him into the realities of conferences and dressing up for dinner and all that grown up stuff. Not to mention opening his eyes to all the options out there in the field so that if he doesn’t end up as an engineer in the end, he won’t feel he’s failed so much as changed directions.
But never mind about him for now. Here’s what I learned:
1. The demographics of the National Space Society as represented at this conference was rather eye opening and could be summed up in the statement, “It’s been a rough 30 years for the hard space enthusiasts.” I counted 4 African Americans - one of whom, Edward McCullough, actually did a presentation I attended which was probably the most impressive of those I witnessed. Otherwise, looking around the huge main presentation room, I eyeballed the crowd as 99.9 percent Caucasian, with men outnumbering women by about 20 to 1. Grey and white hair by far predominated, and one younger member that I’d put in his 20’s actually came up to the mic and put the whole demographics issue on the table - in terms of ethnicity if not concerning the age issue. He said he’d been coming to the conferences for several years and they were always attended by a bunch of middle class white people and what was the NSS doing to attract a wider demographic? The answer was interesting in it’s phrasing. “We’ve seen when we do outreach that a certain demographic grabs their kids and drags them over to our table/display while members of other demographic groups walk by without a glance. We’re working on that.” He didn’t sound too convincing. It might be appropriate at this point to mention that the convention was in a large hotel in the rich suburb of Addison, TX north of Dallas….
2. There are a lot of people in the National Space Society irritated by NASA policy.
3. One of the best ways to get NASA’s attention is to get one of their very expensive Mars rovers stuck in a sand dune…on Mars.
4. Really smart people can pile up a big ‘ol artificial sand dune and figure out how to get a Mars rover unstuck from a sand dune.
5. We build with short term goals, and our rovers keep working past their expiration dates.
6. Boeing assigned a team to figure out how much time and resources it would take to build a dome over a crater on the moon 25 miles in diameter to house 10,000 people and then fill it with a nitrogen atmosphere. The answer was 15 years. The most difficult part of the equation was generating the nitrogen.
7. Most space exploration enthusiasts make presentations in one of two styles:
a) Unemotional (I’m an engineer and we don’t get taken seriously if we sound enthusiastic.)
b) Breathless fanatic.
8. Favorite remembered quote of the conference:
People always worry about oxygen on the moon. I’m a geologist - I can get oxygen out of rocks any time.
–Edward McCullough, chair of the AIAA technical committee from the Boeing Company, Huntington Beach, California.
9. Only an idiot would call space/the moon a ‘harsh environment’ in regards to raising children. The proper term is not ‘harsh’, it’s ‘lethal’. Once we’re clear that we’re not talking about the freaking Gobi Desert here, we can move forward.
10. The national space program has a difficult time defining the why of space exploration for those who aren’t already sold via science fiction or their own personal drive to explore and/or turn their backs on the current state of human affairs. ; ) My son says that there shouldn’t really be a question - it’s dangerous for us all to stay on the same ball of dirt when other balls of dirt are known to be flying around loose…. I simplify-my phrasing there.
11. Sit a good looking woman from UCLA studying lunar rocks next to my 15 year old son at a gala dinner and he CAN speak without stuttering and hold his own in a discussion. Go, boy, go!
12. Space engineers miss the days when members of the opposite sex thought it was cool to go to space.
13. It’s rather amusing if a bit puzzling listening to a psychologist present a paper in no way related to space exploration and try to slant it to the audience anyway.
14. Never get the key to the mini bar.
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