ISU 14th Symposium Debrief: Reaching out or reaching in?


Here I am again on vacation, which means that I’m at a space conference. This time around it’s the International Space University annual symposium, this year on the theme of public outreach and education. Speakers have traveled from around the world to share ideas and experiences in space outreach and education.

Yours truly was the second speaker on the first day, with a talk entitled “Give the Public What They Want”. In my talk I tried to convey some of the lessons learned and challenges faced in working through a space organization, in my case the National Space Society via its North Texas chapter.

One of the things that our chapter does is contact space-related institutions to request materials that we can distribute to visitors to our displays around the metroplex. With the advent of the internet a lot of institutions are moving their materials into their websites, with the expectation that if someone wants a hard-copy of something, they’ll download the pdf. While this serves to minimize the expenses at the institution, it increases expenses for those who want to distribute the information, as they have to shoulder the burden of printing expenses. For a local NSS chapter that just doesn’t work, as we have no budget. The point that I made here is that institutions and organizations cannot forgo the distribution of hard-copy materials.

One thing I keep hearing from high school level teachers is that they need materials aligned to the different high school topics. Chemistry in Space, Biology in Space, Physical Science in Space, Shop in Space, Space Literature. There is no Space class in high school, nor really any modules in the traditional topics. So space educators need to create materials that can be substituted in for existing curricula materials. Homeschoolers don’t labor under the same curricula limitations; they just want as much info as they can get their hands on. After high school the closest most adults will get to space is maybe an astronomy class in college, so we’re dealing with a general population that basically has about a sixth-grade level of understanding of space. Think about that for a minute.


I covered many of the different projects that the chapter undertakes to deliver space into its community. The line at the bottom of one of my slides was “Is our community better for us being in it?” The philosophical principle here is that if the community feels that you’re adding value, then they are more likely to support your efforts with membership and opportunities. I’m most proud of our Santa Space Toy Drive, which each year donates around 80 space related toys to the local Santa’s Helpers program which distributes toys to needy children in the D/FW metroplex. If you think it’s easy to find space-related toys I challenge you to browse the shelves of your local toy provider and see if you can find one that’s not Star Wars® or Star Trek®. Go on, I dare you.

My conclusions were:

-Liaise with your local space clubs. Use them
-Provide materials to educate the public
-Create the educational tools that educators need
-Reduce the perceived elitism of space
-Tone down the disputes
-More parties and fun!

There were a couple of questions afterward. One asked if we did political visits, and I did note that NSS was doing their political event on the Hill with the Space Exploration Alliance. I expressed my own personal disdain for politicians (opprobrium would be a better word), but noted that our chapter has made efforts to meet with local representatives, although as is typically the case at the national level it is with the staff that they meet. One of the lessons I learned when I was doing UN-related stuff back in the 90s was that political staff turns over, and so you have to revisit the legislators offices and re-teach them the same stuff year after year, on a topic that they may or may not attach any importance to. Might as well make a DVD to send to their offices year after year and use your energies to more constructive ends.

Another question was on the extent to which we (NSS) support “citizen science”. The best example of that sort of thing is probably the Cosmos (now LightSail) Solar sail project of the Planetary Society. Some more obvious NSS examples are Orion Propulsion and the current Gemini-LR projects out of the Huntsville, Alabama L5 (HAL5) society. This chapter is known for its rocket geeks doing things like mounting rockets on bicycles. Tim Pickens formed Orion Propulsion out of the chapter’s High Altitude Lift-Off (‘HALO’) program, and recently sold it to Dynetics. What do they do? How about the Forward Propulsion System of Bigelow Aerospace‘s Sundancer Project. Another HAL5 project is the Americans in Orbit – 50 Years (AIO-50), which is seeking to re-establish the proven Gemini design in time for the 50th anniversary of the program’s first success.


Each chapter has its own character, and for NSS of North Texas we raised $200 last year to give as a scholarship to the best space-related project at the upcoming Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair this next weekend. Later that day a gentleman who worked with the International Science Fair thanked me for mentioning scholarships as a way to encourage space-related projects. It’s all about the incentives.

The last question was about media. I had mentioned in my talk that the media hasn’t really done a lot to educate the general public about space activities, and haven’t always shown themselves to be friends of space endeavours. One thing that has been oft mentioned is cultivating local reporters to report on space events. I noted that in one of my slides was a photo of folks lined up for a Zero-G flight, and the lovely young blonde who was a junior science and medicine reporter for the local newspaper that we were (okay, I was) trying to cultivate. A couple months later she was laid off with the rest of the science staff and ended up moving to Atlanta to work for a science magazine. Later in the panel someone else made the comment that even if “cultivated journalists” did get laid off, they’d still end up somewhere, so it makes sense to do it anyway.

My Masters advisor Walter Peeters gave the talk on Belgium’s efforts, noting that the “Fallen Astronaut” memorial artwork on the Moon was from Belgium, as well as the fact that the country has decided not to turn off their highway lights at night so that they show up in the “Earth at Night” pictures as a bright diamond in the middle of Europe. Ms. Kaori Sasaki from JAXA covered a lot of internet tools. Mr. Jonathan Schulster from ESA-ESOC talked about a camera on the Mars Express probe that they’re using to put near-real-time images from Mars on the web. There’s about a 15-minute delay for some standardised processing, but that’s about it. More details at

On a brief detour to Mars, one of the conclusions I had was “Tone down the disputes”. I noted that I have nothing but rank indifference towards Mars, but am passionate about the Moon. I also noted that pretty much everyone in my generation was a Mars fanatic. I have nothing against Mars, but I don’t see it as “THE GOAL”. I see the Solar system as “The Goal”. I know others see New Suns as “The Goal”. The point is that when we constantly fight each other over things like “The Goal” (and consequently what any NASA-designed system would be optimized for) then we do no good to our efforts, and the public thinks we’re idiots. We, as a community, need to rise above it and work together better so that people will take us seriously.

You don’t think the airline industry doesn’t have its disputes? RJs vs. Turbo-props. Boeing vs. Airbus. Who has the best livery? People in the industry are passionate about things, but do you hear about it the way you do about space idiots bashing each others’ goals?

The day I was flying from Dallas to NYC to Paris was also the day that NSS-NT and the Dallas Mars Society (DMS) sponsored a panel on Mars Settlement at the literary sci-fi ConDFW. When the opportunity arose to have a sci-fact panel at a sci-fi con DMS was the first group I reached out to, because I knew they could put together a good panel. Derek and April work at SpaceX down in McGregor and are known in the Mars community. DMS may not trust my intentions (probably with good reason), but I think they’re coming around to the fact that in spite of my personal prejudices I can still deal with them in a spirit of goodwill. Nevertheless, through the rest of the first day of the symposium, whenever a speaker would mention that they personally saw Mars as The Goal they would always look or gesture in my direction.

We also had Nils Sparwasser from the German Aerospace Center talking about how people were becoming increasingly enamored of Earth images from space, and while they may not be considered by the hard-core science community as “real” science, they nevertheless have an enormous value in communicating messages from space.

The morning wrapped up with a panel of all of the speakers, and then my direct role was done, leaving me with nothing left to do but act as the occasional agent provocateur during the rest of the proceedings. One of the notable speakers in the afternoon was Walt Faulconer from JHUAPL, who conducts an exercise in “Spacewalking” something akin to Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” bit. He distributed a nice DVD of the collected interviews found at

I think the thing that was most disturbing for me through the rest of the symposium is that few of the speakers were focused on reaching out to a larger public. According to the ISU website, the focus of the symposium is:

“‘Education’ should be seen here as developing the full human potential of the broader population, not just attracting young people into studying mathematics and science for the nation’s technical and economic benefit. In the symposium program we shall also include considerations of outreach, public awareness and expectations, as well as workforce development and capacity building, all with the goal of producing recommendations for ways forward towards a sustainable space program. The manner in which we handle the promotion of space activities, and education and public outreach can do much to enhance the ‘sustainability’ of exploration and the long-term investments in space endeavors. Potential economic benefits from space commerce as well as benefits from space environmental studies”

Instead, what I was hearing was presentation after presentation about the speakers’ projects, with some aspect of public outreach tacked on. At one point I asked a speaker what they were doing to market their product (which was good product), and they replied that they had a website and participants told their friends and teachers about it. To put it in more traditional terms, they hung a shingle and relied on word-of-mouth.

Things got better on Wednesday afternoon when the proceedings split into two tracks – Higher Education & Youth, School, Teacher and Pre-College Initiatives. I checked out the “Educational Potential of Future Lunar Programs” in the first session, which included Jim Burke as one of the speakers. Greyhairs may know Jim (and his lovely wife Lin) from the Ranger program back in the day. We youngsters may know Jim from the Space Generation Forum (SGF) at UNISPACE III, or dancing to techno at the inaugural Yuri’s Night in Los Angeles, or any number of other space parties over the years.

Then I hopped over to the other track, and I’m glad I did. I caught the end of energy dynamo Heather Hunt’s presentation on the STEP Program at NASA Ames. Then Tom Vice gave an excellent overview of Northrop Grumman’s “Weightless Flights of Discovery” that included a video of the teachers during the Zero-G flight. Wow – the muscle memory kicked in and I started tingling all over remembering the experience. Then I started jonesing, bad, for more microgravity experience. I may have to find a tall skyscraper and fast elevator to tide me over. If you jump right when the elevator starts to drop you get the briefest moment of freefall.

Then we had the Newmyers from BFE, Colorado. They deal with educating in an immensely impoverished locale, and they noted the academic change they see in kids who become interested in space topics. We need a lot more teachers like these two.

Last up was the lovely Marianne Mader, who discussed an intitiative to establish a Canadian Lunar Research Network at the University of Western Ontario to be used as an educational outreach tool to develop inquiry-based learning. After the coffee break I spent spent most of the rest of the afternoon chatting and networking, and Wednesday night concluded with a trip into downtown Strasbourg for an organ and flute concerto in the St. Thomas cathedral.

I was taught to appreciate the spiritual achievements of gothic architecture during my undergrad semester in Paris, and in Dallas one of the Sunday night radio programs on the classical music station WRR 101.1 is called “Pipe Dreams” that features organ performances from around the world. What was notable about the St. Thomas organ was that it was built by some guy Silbermann, and was played by W.A. Mozart during one of his visits to Strasbourg. This was followed by a dinner at l’Ancienne Douane (Old Customshouse)


ISU has a very close relationship with the government leaders in the Strasbourg region, in part because the students proceed to disseminate the culture of the region to the rest of the world, and tell everyone how wonderful is Strasbourg. It’s a smart investment on the part of the locals.

Thursday was focused on Space Benefits, and fellow SGFer Dany St-Pierre talked about the quiet benefit of the Cospas-Sarsat program, an excellent example of international cooperation. Some folks from the US Dept. of State talked about the ‘Public Use and Benefit of US Space Capabilities’. GPS is a good example of how everyone in the world benefits from US space technology, even when it comes from the military. The morning rounded out with a presentation from NASA IPP on their efforts to convey the message of how NASA’s research efforts often provide benefits for society at large that people just don’t realize, and on Spaceconomy from the folks at Astrium.

After yet another delicious lunch, the final afternoon looked towards Future Directions. Beth Beck and her team from NASA HQ showed off their Spacesmart program they are developing for kiosks. Suzanne Metlay from the Secure World Foundation talked about the amateur astronomy community’s contributions to the field of astronomy, and leveraged off of a point that I had made in my presentation that most communities have at least an amateur astronomy club that institutions and organizations can work with in outreach efforts. Keith Muirhead from HE Space talked about providing project workers in the space economy. Angeline Oprong and Ayodele Faiyetole talked about public space awareness and interest in Africa, which is a lot stronger than most people realize. Trond Krovel, whom I know from the Young Lunar Explorers, gave the talk on the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), an offspring of the SGF conference back in 1999 (and Trond noted that I was one of the ‘dinosaurs’ of the Space Generation, having participated in the original SGF conference). It hasn’t gained much traction here in the U.S., but does have a global base of interest.

The afternoon finished with a presentation from Jesco von Puttkamer, who worked in Huntsville in the early days of the space program. He’s had a lot of space adventures through the years that have taken him to places he never expected, like Baikonur to stand next to a Russian rocket.

And just like that, it’s over. A Twitter log can be found at The last evening was spent in downtown Strasbourg, picking up a couple of bottles of Alsacian Pinot Gris to bring home, grabbing a Doner Kebab (my survival food during my ISU studies when I got tired of canned ravioli and cassoulet), and wandering the streets I know so well. It was obvious from the many empty apartment and office buildings that the speculators had been to town and sucked out as much equity as they could. Kind of sad, but Strasbourg’s been around for a long time, and will still be around when the speculators are dust.

One of the things I made sure to do on my first day in Strasbourg is to check out the bookstores for Moon books. As can be seen in the Lunar Library section of the website there were quite a few to be found, with Librarie Kleber being a particularly good source. I also made sure to pick up another copy of Manau’s CD “Panique Celtique”, which I had previously lost after my return from my MSS studies and had missed ever since. I also looked for documentary DVDs, but Zone 0 (all zones) are tough to find. ‘Tous Sur Orbite!‘ was a good find, though.

After the conference it’s back to Paris on the TGV, a very clean and efficient train (we need one of these in Texas), to round out the week before my flight back on Sunday. In the words of the immortal Maurice Chevalier:

“Ô mon Paris ville idéale
Il faut t’quitter dès ce soir
Adieu, ma belle capitale,
Adieu, non…au revoir!

Paris je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime
Avec ivresse,
Comme une maîtresse!
Tu m’oublieras bien vite et pourtant
Mon cœur est tout chaviré en te quittant!

Je peux te dire
qu’avec un sourire
Tu m’as pris l’âme
Ainsi qu’une femme
Tout en moi est à toi pour toujours
Paris je t’aime, oui! d’amour!

Paris je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime je t’aime mais voyons!
puisque j’te dis que je t’aime, allons!
Pour les caresses
De milles maîtresses
Elles m’oublieront bien vite et pourtant
Moi j’leur faisais j’me souviendrais bien longtemps

Lune après lune
La blonde et la brune
M’ont fait sans phrase
Goûter mille extases
J’te l’jure que j’t’appartiens pour toujours,
Paris, je t’aime et comment! – d’amour!


I did a semester in Paris back in 1991, and have been back many times since then (and even once prior, back in the late 70s). I truly adore Paris, and would be more than happy to spend any number of years living there. The women are beautiful, gifted with grace and refinement, and the food is terrific. Being a rather gauche individual, I’ve always been partial to the Rive Gauche side of the city, and promptly headed down into the St. Michel area to go slumming in the bookstores. Since I’d already picked up pretty much all of the available non-fiction Moon books to be had, I decided to focus on the bandes dessinees (BD), the French version of manga, or what we would call graphic novels. The Latin Quarter is great for used bookstores, so there’s no shortage of places to check out. The difficulty is finding BDs with stories relating to the Moon. I did find a few, but there are all sorts of sorting techniques for the BD, so some places were easier to search than others. One notable addition to the Lunar Library was “Apollo appelle Soyouz”, an interesting alterna-history involving disaster on the Moon, saved only by Canadian super-pilot Dan Cooper, who had several adventures in space.


A really impressive find earlier in the week was “Blue Space”, a near-Earth, near-future story of some Martian samples crashed on the Moon and the desperate chase to retrieve them. Intrigue, betrayal and disaster are the order of the day, so it’s quite a story. I perused it while eating a tarte flambee at a small restaurant down near the Cathedral. Later, while cataloguing the book for the Lunar Library I noticed that one of the folks listed as being thanked for their technical and scientific advice was Max Grimard. Waitaminute…that was the guy who talked about how the space industry should be less schizophrenic and more Yin~Yang. So I asked him about it the next day and he was a bit surprised I had found it. He said that EADS Astrium had helped to underwrite the publication of the BD, seeing it as a way to popularize space amongst a broader community, but didn’t really trumpet it as (in my view) they potentially faced criticism of its use of corporate funds in that way when they are a defense contractor, especially if some loud-mouth found something in the BD to which they took offense. Kind of sad that folks have to think that way, as it’s a pretty good story and EADS Astrium should be handing these out at their corporate displays like at the Paris Air Show (which I got to visit in 2001 and 2005, and was on a public space panel (in French) the first time around). He did agree to sign the copy in the Lunar Library.


An upcoming Moon-related BD coming out in April is “Jour J: Les Russes sur la Lune!”, which tells the story of an errant meteorite rupturing the Apollo 11 LEM, allowing the Soviets to land first on the Moon later that year, and the consequences thereof. Sounds like a gripping yarn. Too bad it couldn’t have come out a couple months earlier.

The day of return began at 3am Dallas time. My plane was departing at 1:30pm Paris time, so I wanted to be sure to have lots of time to make the plane. For the flight back I took the new A380 double-decker aircraft. Since it was Air France it was of course a very nice flight, with decent meals and friendly, courteous service. The coolest thing was the camera mounted up on the vertical stabilizer of the empennage, which allows a nice view looking forward over the aircraft as it taxis for the departure and then also for the landing. All aircraft should have these. It’s just too wickedly cool.

Arriving in NYC at JFK, of course involves the kabuki theatre of “security”…[Long pointless rant sagely deleted]…So I get into Dallas at 11pm local time after 20 hours of travelling. Monday was a haze and Tuesday was back to the grind, and reminders of blood donating on Wednesday (2 gallon pin, woohoo!) and that the Science Fair I mentioned earlier is this Saturday. Yours truly is one of the volunteer judges in the Physics & Astronomy category, so I won’t be able to be one of the NSS-NT judges. This will be my fourth year as a volunteer judge, and I’m thrilled to be able to serve my community in this way. The kids are great, the projects are great, and it’s only a few hours on one weekend.

And that’s what I did on my winter vacation.

3 thoughts on “ISU 14th Symposium Debrief: Reaching out or reaching in?

  1. Great Review! I totally agree about the criticism on how presenters did not focus on the subject and still believe that word of mouth works automatically!

    Galactic Greetings from the soon to be sponsored astronaut,

    Adriaan Rijkens

  2. what is a sucktisude???what planet do you come from?

  3. Hi gale. Where is the word you reference? I don’t find it in the article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


WordPress theme: Kippis 1.15