ISDC 2009 Debrief

Howdy everyone! Yours truly is fresh back from this year’s International Space Development Conference and wow, what a terrific event. They are so much more fun when one is an attendee instead of an organizer.

I was unfortunately not able to attend the Space Investment Summit, only arriving late Wednesday night at the Omni Champions Gate, a very nice facility indeed. After sleeping in on Thursday morning (because I was on vacation and therefore entitled) I wandered down to Registration to get my badge and initial bag of goodies. Woo Hoo! The latest edition of AdAstra was therein, as well as a CD of many of the past issues of the Moon Miner’s Manifesto, a superb 20+ year opus chronicling the myriad aspects of setting up shop and living on the Moon. Next stop, the exhibit hall. Objective: Swag.

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Walking into the room, the first thing to be seen ahead is Lockheed Martin‘s table model of the Orion vehicle. Surrounding the model are “Fly me to the Moon” stickers. Score! Just behind that was the ISU booth, staffed by Nassim, a classmate from my Masters program back in 2001. He was the Mars guy, I was the Moon guy. We got along fine because he was willing to concede that there were good uses for the Moon, and I was willing to concede that Mars has its attractions. I sure wouldn’t mind flying the Vallis Marineris, it’d be just like Beggar’s Canyon back home. I did take the opportunity to swap out my lanyard for an ISU one.

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To the left was the Orion Propulsion display of finely crafted rocket motor metal. I’d met some of the folks there last fall at the NSS BoD meeting in Huntsville. Next to them was Apogee Books with a display stuffed with gobs and gobs of space books. What’s this? Free copies of Laura Woodmansee’s ‘Sex in Space‘! Oh I am all over that one like a cheap suit. Over the weekend I ended up picking up a number of new titles, which are already filed in the Lunar Library. It’s always fun talking shop with them. It’s a librarian/publisher thing.

Next towards the back was Space Shirts. These folks have been in the area for years and years, and I always make it a point to stop in when I’m at/around KSC. Last time I was there they gave me a whole bunch of Shuttle stickers with their web address on them to distribute here in the D/FW metroplex, and those things flew out the door, so I asked about getting some more, which should arrive soon. I made sure to pick up a conference t-shirt while I was at the display.

Dark Side of the Moon

Further back is the art. Interesting stuff, but I’m of course looking for Moon art for the Lunar Library. Then I see it – Dark Side of the Moon. It’s almost photographic from a distance, but as one approaches it becomes clear that it is a painting, and subtle hues start coming into focus, purples and blues, perhaps from the Earthlight. The artist wasn’t around, but I was definitely going to have to stop back by, even if it did state NFS (not for sale). At the back of the hall was a table for the upcoming ‘From the Sun to the Earth‘ symposium on Solar energy from space, to be held this fall in Toronto. I would be hearing more about this in later sessions. They also had info on the Solar System Ambassadors, a terrific program run by JPL to train people across the U.S. to teach in their communities about the exploration of the Solar system. If you ever need space content for a school or library or whatever, these are the folks you need to be looking up.

The robot folks were still setting up, so I moved around to the Moon Society display, which had a terrific model of a subterranean Moon base, as well as their power beaming display. I chatted with Peter Kokh for a while, who was still unclear as to why he was receiving the Gerard K. O’Neill Award for Space Settlement at the conference (I want the Space Pioneer award). I pointed out that the Moon Miner’s Manifesto is a work that stands quite well on its own merits, and he has been a guiding force for the Moon Society for a long time, an organization that is starting to come into its own with an increasing number of Outposts (<3 members in a community) and Chapters (3+ members).

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While at the table I was introduced to the folks from Orbitaaliyaan, a space settlement design team from India. The young men walked me through the design of their orbital habitat, which is to hold large numbers of people and relieve the population pressures from global warming. It’s an impressive project, and worth a perusal. I also talked with their chaperon about the Lunar Library as a reference source for her students, and whether there were any books from India that might be added to the Lunar Library. You may be seeing a new category soon for the books about Chandra.

No one was at the Space Frontier Foundation table, so I moseyed along to the SEDS table. I’d like to get a SEDS chapter started here in Dallas; heaven knows we have enough colleges and universities in the area. They talked me into buying a SEDS shot glass, the perfect gift for any university student, and something I would put to good use later. SEDS hosted the hospitality party on Saturday night, and you know what happens when you get chemists and physicists and rocket scientists together with libations – you get rocket fuel, a potent drink that did in many a grayhair that evening (all participants were at least 21 years of age). The recipe is secret, and probably best kept from the general public. If you’d like to be initiated into the mysteries of SEDS, you might want to check out their SpaceVision 2009 conference this November at the University of Arizona.

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There were a couple of Mars tables, NASA FCU, space jewelry (in an artistic sense), and of course the big NSS table. Since I’m a bit of an NSS insider there wasn’t really anything there that I didn’t already have. Sorry if I missed anyone.

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Probably the coolest exhibit there had to be the flight simulator that the guys at Orbital Commerce Project had brought to the conference. The challenge for conference attendees was to take the rocket racer up to 26,000 feet and then return for a safe-landing. My first attempt I got it up to 19,000 feet and landed safely albeit nowhere near the landing field. My second attempt I forgot to retract the landing gear and so only made it up to about 17,000, but at least I landed at the airport fairly close to the runway. My third attempt I had stick issues (as in I couldn’t keep the nose pointed straight up) and so didn’t even make it to 16,000, but did successfully land on the runway. Since I hadn’t met the challenge I was denied one of the cool OCP t-shirts, dagnabit.

I was popping in and out of sessions throughout the conference, but the two that really stuck out for me were the Space Solar Power and Lunar tracks. Col. Damphousse from the National Space Security Office outlined some interesting facts, such as the fact that we ship diesel fuel from the U.S. to Afghanistan to power generators at military installations, a long supply chain that drives the cost of the diesel to about $100 a gal. And you thought you could complain about gas prices! He also noted that special forces carry about 60 pounds of batteries in their kits. I must be out of shape as I had a hard time wrestling 60 lbs. of swag and books home in my luggage. By sourcing your energy delivery from space you end up with a lot of strategic advantages.

In the Lunar track Peter and Dave were running a bit late, so I quickly ran through the presentation I had given recently to the FW Mensa (pdf, I’m on page 12) chapter to pass the time. Someone asked if the presentation is available electronically, and the answer is not yet, as I have to scrub it for copyright stuff. Peter used his time to wax philosophical on the meaning of humanity traveling to a new continent (the Moon, often referred to as the 8th Continent) across a new kind of sea (cislunar space). Dave Dunlop, who is on the Moon Society BoD, talked about using robots to do the kinds of science we need to do on the Moon as outlined in part in the recent National Academy of Sciences report ‘The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon‘. Last up was Prof. Dan Hawk from College of Menominee Nation in Wisconsin. The basic thesis of his presentation was that in the event that global warming does in fact cause a rise in sea levels, then a lot of fertile land is going to be submerged. This means that croplands will will have to be moved to less fertile areas, and part of his research is into plants that grow in difficult terrains, and some of the solutions he has uncovered may have application in future Lunar agriculture. He was kind enough to give me a small jar of pure carbon that he had processed. I’ll keep it in the Lunar Library, and when I’m administrator of the first Moon base I’ll be sure that the folks in the greenhouse get it.

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Saturday morning was the trip to Mission: Space at Epcot. This was my first trip to Epcot, though I was previously at Disney World right before we left for England, so that would have been 1974. Let’s just say that there has been a wee bit of inflation between then and now. After disgorging the $80 cover to get into the park, I promptly hustled over to Mission: Space. Since I wanted to have a clear head in the gift shop I stopped there first. Sigh…Star Wars and Wall-E and so on. I did find a few new titles for the Lunar Library, as well as a Buzz Lightyear raygun for, well, fun. Didn’t find a good stuffed Mickey in astronaut attire. At least I still have Snoopy.

The ride itself is interesting. I went for the nausea-inducing one, but didn’t have any difficulties. Basically there is a crew of four. The guy from ‘Mission to Mars’ is giving the briefing, and you’re crewing a vessel to Mars. Each crewmember has two buttons to push when prompted, and the drama provides lots of opportunities for things like dodging asteroids on final approach to Mars or winging through the Vallis Marineris (it’s just like Beggar’s Canyon back home). A fair number of gees, but only for short periods. Since it is a much bigger centrifuge than the one at the Astronaut Hall of Fame the residual coriolis effect in the inner ear isn’t anywhere near as bad. Afterwards I sent a goofy space video to myself, and headed back to the conference for the BoD meeting that afternoon. I’ll just chalk that one up as my stupidly expensive indulgence for this trip.

The NSS Board of Directors, on which I serve as the Region 3 Representative and for which I really need to pick a particular Committee on which to serve, was a lot of high level organizational stuff. It is phenomenally difficult to run a large organization like NSS on an entirely volunteer basis (except for the Executive Director), and so the volunteers on the BoD have to work extra hard to get things done. Which they do, and the evolution of the ISDCs over the years into the increasingly professional but still accessible to the general public conference that it is is evidence of that. There was no naming of who is under consideration for the ED position, but the process is fairly well along.

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One thing that I can talk about is the fact that the $20 introductory membership price that NSS has been offering for the last couple of years is probably going away in the not too distant future. So if you’re not yet a member of NSS you should definitely sign up now, and tell your friends and neighbors to do so as well.

One thing I hadn’t realized was how iconic my black Beaumont cowboy hat had become. When I was going around to space conferences before my 2007 ISDC, I would wear the hat to highlight that it was going to be in Dallas, TX. Now, whenever I’m not wearing the hat everyone always asks where it is, and when I do wear it everyone always comments on how easy I am to find. I just wish it wasn’t such a pain in the neck to fly with.

Remember those Fly Me to the Moon stickers I mentioned earlier? Well, Lockheed Martin was ultra-cool and offered increasingly interesting items over the course of the conference. After the stickers there were some mouse pads, and paper model Orion spacecraft (pdf), and even some Fly Me to The Moon bumper magnets. I chopped the Orion logo off of mine and slapped it onto the rear end of my black Beetle cabriolet.

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So did I enjoy the conference? Heck yes! Saw a lot of old friends, and met a lot of new ones, like the Higginbothams of SpaceVidCast, or David Webb, a name that no one has heard of but who has nevertheless been behind many of the activities that have produced many of the younger space leaders we’re seeing today. The networking there is phenomenal, as evidenced by the persistent crowd clustered around young Mr. Garriott, and all kinds of activities, from fireworks to telescope viewings to model rocket launches.

The ISDC is the one space-interest conference that is meant for everyone, which means that anyone, even you, can go there and just bask in all kinds of interesting space stuff. And walk off with all kinds of cool swag. I’ll definitely be at the one in Chicago in 2010, especially since I want to pay a visit to the Adler Planetarium while I’m there. Maybe I’ll see you there.

One thought on “ISDC 2009 Debrief

  1. What size shirt would you like and where do you want it sent?

    George Tyson
    CEO
    Orbital Commerce Project

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