Howdy everyone. Just taking a break from all of the NSS of NT chapter stuff, and The Moon Society stuff, and my big project for the next few weeks: Moon Day
Planning has kicked into overdrive, and I’m off to a solid start. The main difference this year is that we’re moving from a four-hour event on a Sunday to a seven-hour event on a Saturday, based on feedback from last year. This means the exhibitors have to staff a display for a longer period, and I have to find a larger speaking pool (or spread out the existing pool that I can retain over a longer period).
I was a little concerned when I sent out my initial request for indications of interest from participants in prior years. The University of North Texas jumped on board right away, and Starman Ron DiIulio is one of our headline speakers, a Solar System Ambassador (SSA) and usually donates a meteorite as a door prize. Last year they brought a display with them, which I anticipate again for this year. Spaceminers.org is bringing their tether climber again this year. NSS of North Texas, co-host of the event, typically has a huge six-table display with videos, display boards, tons of handouts, Ad Astra magazines, and once again our Science Fair Scholarship raffle to raise money to award at next year’s Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
Dallas Mars Society will be joining us for the first time to highlight the upcoming Mars Society conference in August. Since I’m running for president of The Moon Society, I’m going to put together a separate TMS display with information about the organization and some righteously cool dioramas. The Astronaut Training Center will be bringing a number of their simulations to the event, including a floaty chair like at Space Camp.
One of our biggest ongoing supporters at NSS of North Texas is the UTA Planetarium, where the chapter has done outreach displays and Girl Scout merit badge work. The UNT Planetarium, as noted, will be there as well. This is rather interesting, as it was just announced at three different local school districts here in the metroplex that they are going to shut down their planetariums to save money. I’ve contacted both of the big civic planetariums (Noble in Fort Worth and Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas), but haven’t heard back yet. I did manage to track down the person at MoN&S responsible for their StarLab, and after a quick conversation it took them less than a day to run the idea up to management and get approval. So as a new feature this year we’ll have a large inflatable planetarium running programs throughout the day. Yee-hah!
More new folks will be joining us this year. The Civil Air Patrol, which offers an aerospace education program, will have a display. As will the Fort Worth Astronomical Society, which appears to be moving from a self-maintained website to a JPL-sponsored one. And the UT Dallas Center for Space Sciences just sent an e-mail asking if it would be possible to not only donate copies of their Cindi in Space comic (q.v. infra), but also have a display as well to show off some engineering models and have materials available on UTD science and engineering programs. I quickly called him back and said Yes! Yes! You have tapped into the essence of what this event is all about.
Moving on to speakers, there are three areas to cover: auditorium, conference rooms, and kids classrooms.
The auditorium is for our big name speakers. Starman usually gets the last presentation of the day, typically on the history of the Moon and asteroids, since that’s where we give away the meteorite door prize that he offers each year. The room has full A/V, so that’s where Neil Milburn of Armadillo Aerospace gave his rocket motor presentation last year, to an apparently disappointingly small audience. I’d like to get one of our local ISS tourists to come give a talk, either Anousheh Ansari here in the metroplex, or Richard Garriott down in Austin, but the museum takes point on ultra-VIP matters.
Given that I’ve got three extra hours to work with, I’m seriously thinking about including a screening of ‘Postcards from the Future‘, maybe around lunchtime. I arranged for an early screening of the film at my ISDC back in 2007, which resulted in an article in Wired Magazine. Consequently, the director, Alan Chan, who most recently has been working on the Green Lantern movie, has given me permission to screen the movie at NSS of North Texas events. Or more recently at The Moon Society hospitality party at the ISDC. He also sent us a couple copies of the DVD for chapter use, like in our Science Fair scholarship fundraisers.
The museum is concerned about the low level of turn-out in the auditorium, which they’ve noticed at events other than Moon Day. Their thinking is that people get lost in the main floor, and just don’t get upstairs to the auditorium. So they’re considering sectioning off an area on the Main floor for the auditorium speakers and having them down there where there’s greater visibility. Postcards from the Future would loop in the auditorium. Only problem is that it orphans the art show (q.v. infra) and the conference room speakers.
The conference rooms are used for grown-up level talks on space topics. In prior years we’ve had talks on Lunar regolith simulant, meteorite hunting, the Lunar atmosphere, cislunar space, and the like. This year I’m trying to get things like Moon observing and Moon basics. I do have a couple of NSS of NT chapter members who want to give talks on “Shuttle: What Comes After” and “Science Fact in Speculative Fiction”. If I can find time I may give my Cislunar Space presentation, and it may be that Dr. Carter might be able to give his talk about Lunar regolith simulant again.
In the kids classroom, local SSA and CAP and NSS of NT member Cynthia Whisennand will give her Toys in Space talk again, and Brookhaven College Astronomy & Physics Lab is looking again into having a Moon rocks class using the lucite disks from JSC. I might be able to scare up another class or two.
On the materials side of things, I’ve had a fair amount of success. One of the things that makes Moon Day unusual is our ‘Lunar Sample Bags’, which we hand out to the youngsters. About 200 of them last year, so we’re preparing 250 again for this year. NSS of NT just approved underwriting this year’s bags, and so they get the chapter website shown on the bag.
Finding stuff for the bags involves writing to a whole bunch of folks, of which about half respond and most of which are able to provide something in the quantities requested. We’ve got our usual supporters, which have provided materials for three years now, like the Lunar & Planetary Institute and the NASA Lunar Science Institute. This year they both tried to send me International Observe the Moon Night materials, so I’m guessing it’s a big outreach priority for them.
Another pair of true blue materials suppliers are the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation and the NASA Innovative Partnerships Program, both of which provide strong commercialization content.
I ran into Amanda from Google Lunar X Prize at the ISDC, and they’re going to help out again with materials, including Moonbots. We’re also trying to figure something out with their inflatable globe. My understanding is that it was prepared by Orbis World Globes, who were then going to compress the dataset to fit on a scale Moon to accompany their Earthglobe when they could find the capital to fund the computational time. Amanda remembers the story a bit differently as to who the X Prize Foundation sourced it from. Whatever the case, it’s up in St. Louis and the folks holding it have agreed to ship it down if we pay for the freight. Given that my budget is $0, it’s probably going to be staying in storage for a while.
The Yuri’s Night folks are seeing what they can scrounge up in the aftermath of this year’s event. Space Center Houston is going to be sending up some brochures with 10% off coupons. I ran into the Moon Arts folks at the ISDC, and they are sending some brochures. The UT Dallas Center for Space Sciences is printing up a batch of their Cindi in Space comics to include in the bag, and as noted are now looking at a display as well. I was hoping to get packets of the mini space lettuce that Orbitec includes in their Space Gardens, but they don’t have enough on hand, and are going to send a couple vials of JSC-1a Lunar regolith simulant instead. The Great Moonbuggy Race is sending a couple of t-shirts for door prizes (and the chapter may snag one for their Science Fair Scholarship raffle) as well as some handout materials for the handout tables. And Virgin Galactic is going to see what they can send us.
As I noted, I contact a lot of folks. A few who haven’t responded include Moon Zoo, STScI, TSGC, P&W Rocketdyne, CanSat, NanoRacks, STK, Estes Rockets, and Lunabotics. You have to cast a wide net to capture a few results, but as I often note, while your answer will usually be no, the ONLY way to get to yes is to ask.
Speaking of door prizes, I’m having a hard time with those. As noted, Starman usually gives us a meteorite sample, and Orbitec is sending some JSC-1A vials. I can use a couple of the Great Moonbuggy Race t-shirts they’re sending as well. In years past there would be a relatively recently published juvenile book that I would request a signed copy of from the author, but this year has been pretty arid. Past examples include Moonwake, Lunar Pioneers, and Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? The year that Moon 3-D came out we got some of those as well.
This year I thought I’d try to hit up some local businesses and see if they’d be willing to donate product tax-deductibly to a 501(c)3 organization. The last bookbox standing is totally corporate and won’t post our flyers (Borders at least used to have community bulletin boards near the bathrooms), so I’m not even going to bother with them. I was hoping that the LEGO Store would have some autonomy, but the manager said I had to go through corporate in CT. I’ve dealt with them before, so I knew that was a dead end. (although I am going to have to try again for a project I have in mind at The Moon Society) I tried at Hobbytown USA, but the manager indicated they typically only donate to schools, and then just remainders type items. But they would post a flyer. The local comic shops might be willing to offer up some space-y graphic novels, but I’ve got other plans for them regarding the art show.
This year’s art show is going to be 60 years of space comics. About 200 comics or so, arranged 3×3 on a 32″x40″ black foamcore mount with a black metal frame. The first comic is a 1950 adaptation of the George Pal movie Destination Moon. The show then works its way up chronologically to 2010. There are 22 panels in all (making for 198 comics), although I’m thinking of doing a special kids comics panel to mount down in the play area to point kids upstairs to the rest of the show. Local comic shops that have helped in supplying the source material include Lone Star Comics (my main shop), Keith’s Comics (main back-up), Titan Comics (best boxes to dig through), Big World Comics, and Half-Price Books. I’m also going to use the display case again, this time filling it up with games. Board games, computer games, role-playing games, video games, puzzles, LEGOs and so forth. This serves as a counterpoint to the display downstairs of Apollo-era toys and games.
So the program is rich with content of all kinds, showing the vast diversity of space activities. And it’s all local!
The main thing at this point is to get the attendance numbers up. In 2009 it was somewhere between 500-600 attendees, in 2010 a bit shy of 500. If the exhibitors are going to keep doing this I need numbers in excess of 1,000 this year. I’ve already got folks passing on participating this year because last year was a disappointment, especially from the perspective of the speakers having small audiences. We still don’t have any advertising budget, so we’ve got to go old school.
The main thrust, which began last weekend, is flyers, like the one up top. I personally eat the cost of printing up the flyer on 8.5″x11″ glossy photostock paper, and then these get posted anywhere we can get permission to do so. I’ve printed up 100 so far, but I keep adding new names as more folks come on board, and so I’m up to the third version of the flyer, which will likely be printed up next week as I anticipate running out of my existing stock this week. We target libraries, book stores, record stores, restaurants and cafes, comic book stores, grocery stores, homeschooling supply stores, basically any place that’s non-corporate. I’ve found over the years that you’ll get much more support from the local folks than corporate types that have to run things up through chains of command. Corporates tend to only want to do big-ticket high-visibility type things where they expect significant name-recognition from a large audience to accrue therefrom. 500 attendees is too small, and the demographic isn’t easily distinguished. It’s an all-ages event, with content targeted to kids, families, and grown-ups alike. It’s the D/FW metroplex, so there’s no telling how many people might show up.
The other angle is getting listed on as many local online event calendars as possible. That’s the project for this weekend. The basic strategy there is to Google ‘Dallas event calendar’ and the like and see what websites show up on the first couple of pages. Strong google-fu allows me to winnow down the best candidates pretty quickly, and then you submit the info to each one. Sometimes there’s a no, but usually for something like Moon Day you’ll get listed.
I’ve already contacted the reporter at the Dallas Morning News who wrote up the event last year, but don’t expect expect to hear back until closer to the event. I also need to contact the local Dallas Observer to be sure to be listed in their Night & Day column in the issue that comes out on the 13th. There are other local media to contact as well, like Pegasus News and Star Newspapers.
My big hope is that we’re able to get on a local radio show called Think! on KERA the week before the event. I drove all the way downtown during my lunch hour to drop off a flyer, a Lunar Sample Bag, and a short cover letter to try to pique their curiosity a bit.
My biggest disappointment this year would have to be the lack of response from folks on the business side of the industry. I expected that Armadillo would be a tough sell after the weak turnout at their talk last year. SpaceX down in McGregor has previously indicated that they don’t see their educational mandate extending beyond Waco (it is, admittedly, a 2.5 hour drive or so to get to Dallas), so I took a softball approach and just asked for materials while exploring other avenues for trying to make something happen. Stone Aerospace indicated they wouldn’t be able to make it, and I haven’t heard back yet from the young go-getter at the Houston office of Paragon SDC. AstroTech didn’t respond to my inquiries last year, nor do I expect them to respond this year.
Here’s my view on things: We’re in the age of spaceshows. Back in the 1920s and 30s, airplanes were viewed by the general public as strange mythical things. It took airshows to drive home the point to everyone that aviation was a real industry with lots of applications, as people could actually get close and see the bent metal.
There’s also a larger effect at work as well. I view the space industry as one in which the U.S. of A. has a competitive commercial advantage. I also believe the space industry is one which offers enormous opportunity, which we should be exploiting like crazy to create value (and thereby wealth) for our nation and the world.
Still, it’s regarded as a bit mythical and sci-fi by the populace at large. To overcome that, they need to see the hardware. This builds confidence that yes, this is something our nation can do. In these dark economic times (which I’m cursed with understanding better than 99% of the world’s populace thanks to my day job and work history in the banking and financial sector. Don’t get me started…), the populace needs something that they can be confident in. Industry after industry that we start up quickly rushes overseas for exploitation, but space has high enough barriers to entry that the stable of our competitors is very limited. Very good at what they do, but none of our competitors have the American spirit that can make it happen for everyone, or the markets to make it happen (or at least what battered remnants remain after the last couple of decades of abuse and cancerous rot and corruption).
That spirit is worthless without training and guidance, and that’s why STEM emphasis in education is so important, to cultivate the brightest young minds into training themselves to tackle the tough problems that face our nation. Bridges don’t stand and rockets don’t fly if we ain’t got engineers.
And that’s where events like Moon Day come in – to give people the opportunity to explore all about space in one location, and find out what resources are available in the community. It also gives the local space folks a chance to meet each other, and maybe figure out other opportunities for collaboration. Youngsters go home with a sample bag stuffed with space materials (hopefully most of it with some kind of web address on it) that they can lose themselves in over the following week or so of torrid Texas summer. I was initially concerned that this would be a particularly weak event, and possibly the last of them as I would turn my efforts to other, more productive, ends. As the planning has progressed, though, more and more folks have stepped up to the plate, and it’s really looking like a very exciting event this year. There’s still several weeks to go, and I’ve got other unmentioned leads that I’m pursuing.
To shill for my own cause for a minute, this is the sort of thing that I’m going to try to bring to the presidency of The Moon Society if I get elected (so please join and vote). A focus on basics and being a voice in the community. If I can get membership numbers up, more chapters could be formed, which would be tasked or challenged with arranging talks about the Moon in their local community. What happens is that the first one is usually a fail. The fail is almost always tied to publicity and getting the word out. But the few people who do show up remember the coolness of the content, and might tell a few friends about it. After licking its wounds, the chapter would try again, maybe with a different topic. What’s happening is that they’re building the network of Moon knowledge in their community. The astronomy club guy/gal who does Moon observing and wants to show others how cool it is. The local university professor who harbors a secret obsession with the Apollo Lunar samples. The librarian who has read every Apollo book in the library cover to cover. The local banker who has a huge collection of Moon books and has actually read a good chunk of them, on all topics.
By which point certain audience members will start identifying themselves and you may find some new talent. At about the same time chapter or outpost members will be gaining enough confidence in their Moon knowledge (and will have read enough of the Moon Miner’s Manifestos) to offer their own talks about the Moon. They may create their own, or they may download a generic presentation from the TMS website that I’m going to work on putting together with a team. Eventually they may end up with enough stuff for a Moon Day type event in their own community.
So if you’re in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, or know someone in the D/FW metroplex, mark your calendar for Saturday, July 16th, from 10am to 5pm at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas, at of Mockingbird and Lemmon. There’s a big 737 sticking out of the side, a recent gift from Southwest Airlines. You can’t miss it!