2010 Metroplex Moon Day Machinations


Howdy everyone! I’m just taking a break here from my current project, the cobbling together of some kind of coherent program for this year’s Moon Day celebration on July 18th from 1-5 pm at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas. That’s right, folks from elsewhere can fly in on Southwest Airlines, spend a couple bucks on a cab to take them around the corner (literally, the museum is at the south end of the runway), bask in all of the space goodness for a few hours, and then fly home in time for dinner.


The planning is marching ahead nicely for this year’s event, so I thought I’d share a bit of what I guess could be considered something of a systems engineering exercise. These are notes, and I tend to be overly optimistic in my planning with the expectation of many, many fails in the mix. In fact, I’ve already accumulated a few this year.

Last year, the museum’s Program Director, Bruce Bleakley, complained that I was throwing so much stuff at him for the event that it was like a three ring circus. I riposted that no, it was more like a three-ring-squared circus, which would be nine rings of space activity. This actually gave me an idea for organizing this year’s Moon Day on July 18th. I broke down the layout of the museum into zones (or rings) and then laid out the plan for each zone, being careful to avoid overlaps of thematic content.


Zone 1 is Bruce’s favorite, the auditorium. Seating 200 and with state-of-the-art A/V equipment, this is where we host our big names, to the extent that we can dig up big space names for a non-NASA locale. The first person I approached was Anousheh Ansari, who did a book signing for “My Dream of Stars” at the local independent bookstore Legacy Books up in Plano. I asked her if she would be interested in speaking at our event, to which she answered in the affirmative, and I also suggested that she might consider offering a special award at the annual Science Fair. I didn’t know if either suggestion will work out, but I hoped they both would.


The next person I approached was Richard Garriott, at the Space Economy Leadership Summit (SELS) earlier this month. He gave me a “maybe, let me check my calendar” response. I sent an e-mail, but haven’t heard back, so the museum is going to take over this one as they can offer perquisites that I don’t have a budget for. In fact, my budget for this event is $0.

It turns out that inviting two relatively local private space travellers to the ISS wasn’t necessarily a good idea. My thinking was that having the two of them would make the event more newsworthy, and offer a unique opportunity for the two of them to interact with the audience. The museum, though, is looking for balance in the content, and having both of them would, in their opinion, not be as good an idea as I thought. The museum is going to sort that little mess out. Oops.


The last speaker for the day will hopefully be local Starman Ron DiIulio, one of the local Solar System Ambassadors. Last year’s presentation was really well received, as was the asteroid door prize, and so the museum has him as a priority for the event. Unfortunately, this year I have to now ask everyone I approach about the event for a door prize. Sucks for me, but should be really, really good for the attendees. I’ve already got autographed copies of Brian Fies’ “Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow” and Robert Black’s “Lunar Pioneers“.


So that’s the glamorous stuff. Not quite so glamorous is Zone 2, the upstairs conference rooms. We make these into a single classroom, and get some folks to talk about grown-up space stuff that would bore the bejeesus out of younger attendees. Figure a junior college/university level type of talk. Last year we had Dr. James Carter talk about his formulation of regolith simulant used in abundant quantities by NASA, as well as Dr. John Hoffman, who had instruments on Mars, and was involved in the Lunar atmosphere experiments during Apollo.

This year I’ve blocked for three classes. For the first talk I’m trying to get a local meteorite hunter to talk about his experiences and how to look for meteorites. I met McCartney Taylor at a Mensa conference where we both gave space presentations, and he runs the Texas Meteorite Laboratory down in Austin. His talk will book-end nicely with Starman’s talk on meteorites in the auditorium at the end of the afternoon. Ron’s talk is going to be geared more towards how meteorites came to be and why we find them, compared with McCartney’s talk on how to hunt meteorites. McCartney will then spend the rest of the afternoon at a table on the main floor where he’ll have meteorites for sale. He’s just got to check his calendar.

The middle class will hopefully be someone that the museum knows, a cardiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center and space medicine enthusiast. I had been trying to find someone in the area who could talk about Space Medicine, and it turns out the museum may have had it covered. This is an area that doesn’t get as much coverage as it should, and so I really wanted the ISS-themed content in the classroom to be on that topic.

For the last class of the day I want to cover rocket motors. We’re going to have a rocket building class, so it would be cool to have a lecture on real rockets they could attend afterwards. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I can work something out with Armadillo or SpaceX.

Zone 3 is the hallway and the mezzanine it leads to that overlooks the main floor. For the hallway we’re actually going to get an early start. The museum has asked me to have my Lunar art show ready the beginning of June, because they intend to leverage that for publicity for Moon Day. All of a sudden I have to finish getting stuff framed, and the local frame shop has gotten backed up. Plus I’m going to be out of town for the next two weeks to head up to the Space Investment Summit and International Space Development Conference in Chicago next week. That means the soonest I can hope to have it up is the first weekend in June, and I still need to catalogue everything.

The collection is from the Lunar Library, and will be about 20-25 pieces all told, breaking down into three broad themes:

-the Lunar surface
-Lunar tourism
-Lunar Industry

The Lunar surface will be pieces like the framed Lunar Quadrant Maps, “The Dark Side of the Moon“, and a poster of the program cover from “Dans les champs des etoiles“. Then there will be some showing rockets headed for the Moon, and some showing landings and folks getting out and exploring. This section will be things like “Lunar Adventures” and the cover from “Thrilling Wonder Stories”. Eventually you move to industry, and so I have a Lunar greenhouse, and some action shots of Moonbases. Some items are geared more towards kids, and will be hung at a lower level. Things like “The Ultimate Sandbox” and “One Small Step“. The last two items are Plinius Cemetary and one whose name I have to track down showing an image of footprints leading to the Lunar horizon, with a backdrop bespeckled with the stars twinkling in infinity. I think it was from “In the Stream of Stars”. I’ve also got a secret piece that I’m working on to add to the event.


So that art show is going to be put on the local online art calendars and on the FoF website, which will draw people who can then be told about the Moon Day event. The big problem I’m having right now is coming up with a name for the show. It’s going to be “Something Something: Art from the Lunar Library”. I get stuff like Ars Selenica and Explorer’s Moon and so on bouncing around in my brain and none of it quite fits and falls into place. Any suggestions would be welcome in the comments, and should I select one I’ll send something from the Lunar Library like an extra copy of “Jour J: Les Russes sur La Lune“. I do have English language books as well.

For the open mezzanine area in Zone 3 I’ve suggested that the museum contact NASA about getting some exhibit panels on things like space food, ISS and meteorites. This is another relatively simple away to fill floorspace with space stuff.

Zone 4 is the downstairs classrooms where we’ll hold the kids classes. Local astronomy professor Chaz Hafey is going to hold a couple of classes. Last year he did the Lunar Sample Disks from JSC, and I’m hoping he’ll do the same again this year, but he does have a long pedigree in space education and outreach so I don’t want to limit him. I am going to have to pin him down on something at some point in the not too distant future.

The other classroom is being turned over to local Civil Air Patrol/Solar System Ambassador/NSS-NT member Cynthia Whisennand for her Toys in Space program. Last year she held it at a table, which was a bit awkward when a crowd built up in the through traffic of the displays. Having a classroom will let her stretch her wings a bit and focus on the kids.


Zone 5 is the kids area. I was hoping to use the play area, but the museum hosts birthday parties, and they pay for priority access to the play area. Looks like this one is going to get pushed off closer to the SR-71 cockpit trainer. What I envision for this area is picture book readings, arts & crafts, and things like crater-making and balloon rockets. My plan is to line up two or three NSS-NT chapter members to run this area.

Zone 6 is the workshop, where the local Dallas Area Rocket Society (DARS) has already agreed to conduct a rocket building class in the area where the museum builds its models. There is an extra fee for this class, but it’s structured so that participants get a rocket and one year membership in DARS. Plus, if they want to launch their brand new rockets they have to go to one of DARS’ monthly launches up in Frisco unless they find other accommodations. The workshop is like a fishbowl with windowed sides so that all of the attendees will get a chance to check out the young rocketeers.

Zone 7 is the main floor with all of the displays and booths, and really my main responsibility. Already lined up for displays are:

NSS of North Texas – 6 tables, two each on ISS/Tech Transfer, Asteroids, and the Moon.
DARS – at least two tables
Dallas Mars Society – at least one table, probably more, because they’re hoping to make a bid to host the 2011 Mars Society annual conference in Dallas. NSS-NT is going to be supporting them in this, just as they supported NSS-NT during the 2007 ISDC in Dallas.
Astronaut Training Center – at least one table, plus possibly a floater chair that rides on compressed air to illustrate Newton’s Laws. There aren’t just indemnification issues, but also acoustic issues from running an air compressor motor inside a big hangar.
UTA Planetarium will once again have a table to sign folks up for their monthly Starry Messenger newsletter.

There are a lot of other feelers out as well, and some yet to be sent out. I have gotten one rejection, from the Monnig Meteorite Gallery, but they always have something else going on during my events so this wasn’t unexpected, but you still have to go through the motions.

The Noble Planetarium over in Fort Worth re-opened recently after an upgrade, so I want to invite them. The Planetarium at Fair Park is a venerable institution, and they do have a portable StarLab in which I’m definitely interested. UNT also has a planetarium, as does the town of Garland for their schools, and the St. Mark’s Academy in Dallas for their students. Richland College is in the process of giving their long closed planetarium a makeover as the new Buzz Aldrin Planetarium. So this is a rich field to mine here in the metroplex in regards to planetariums.


We’re also trying to line up vendors for the event. I’ve already mentioned that the Texas Meteorite Laboratory down in Austin is interested in a table to sell meteorites. I’m talking to someone about having math & science t-shirts for sale, and the museum is going to be talking to Dallas-headquartered Half-Price Books (HPB) to see about having them bring a whole bunch of space books to the event to sell. I’m also going to try to contact the local The Observatory to see if they want to have a booth again. Their participation last year wasn’t particularly fruitful for them, so this one is 50/50.

I’ve sent out a lot of requests for materials, but have many more to go. These will take two forms – general distribution handouts for the main floor, and special stuff for the ‘Lunar Sample Bag’ that each youngster gets for attending the event. It will be stuffed with things geared toward a younger audience – stickers, bookmarks, posters, and so on. Last year, since we had no budget, the sample bags were white kitchen garbage bags, because they were ultra cheap per unit and large enough to contain even the posters. I want to do better this year, so I am making some special requests to see if I can get some funding to print up some tote bags with ‘Lunar Sample Bag’ and the corporate logo on them. Wish I could do it myself, but most folks won’t take $0 (my budget) for their goods or services.

On the corporate side, I’ve got a “let us think about it and we’ll get back to you” from Armadillo Aerospace, who just had a really nice write-up in the local Dallas Observer (a fine free alternative to the local daily). I managed to corner Ken Bowersox of SpaceX at the SELS conference, who indicated that it was totally unlikely that SpaceX would be willing to throw a rocket motor in the back of a pick-up and haul it all the way from McGregor to Dallas to show off. The stuff down there is all operational equipment, slated for actual use and so not available for gallivanting around North Texas. I’m still hoping to get a speaker about rocket motors from them. There are a couple of other space companies in Texas I’ve approached, but they’re a little farther afield.

At the Summit

The museum already has a bunch of space stuff, so they’ll have their ‘Dr. Apollo’ giving explanations about the inside of the Apollo 7 capsule, there’s a Moon Walk exhibit to wander through, as well as display cases of artifacts, some Beal Aerospace relics, and even a model of the Sputnik hanging from the rafters.

Zone 8 is outside. I’d like to plant a Moon Tree at the museum for the event, but I’m also thinking that the middle of summer in Texas might not be the best time to plant a sapling. When the Texas Astronomical Society comes on board they will probably have telescopes with Solar filters out front. Unfortunately the last quarter Moon will have set before the festivities kick off at 1pm.

My big wish is that we can get the NASA ISS trailers, which would actually be parked there for a couple of weeks. Having that at the Moon Day event would just thoroughly overrun my personal goal of 1,000 attendees this year.

So there you have it, eight zones of chaotic space goodness. What’s amazing is that if you trust that everyone knows what they’re doing, and don’t get in the way of them doing it, then most of the time you’re right. There will be flubs. It happens and can’t be avoided no matter how much forethought and planning one puts into an event.

Planning and forethought, like wait, where’s the Moon stuff?

1: ISS, ?, Asteroids
2: Asteroids, ISS, Rockets
3: Lunar art, Asteroids, ISS
4: Moon, ISS
5: Moon, Rockets
6: Rockets
7: ISS, Asteroids, Moon, Mars, Rockets, Apollo, Astronomy
8: Moon?, Sun, ISS?


So if it’s Moon Day, shouldn’t there be a lot more Moon stuff? The big blank is the question mark in the middle session in the auditorium. We’re unlikely to find a big name Moon person up here in the non-NASA hinterlands of North Texas. Unless Alan Bean decides to pop out of the studio, though frankly this isn’t an Apollo decadal anniversary so I’d like to focus on forward looking stuff like space commercialization.

I do see where there could be concerns about being overbalanced towards ISS subject matter, but I’m okay with that because I like the ISS and I think it will become a useful tool before it’s done. I also know that the delta-V to EML-1 from an ISS orbit is the same as for a station in a lower inclination orbit, which allows for some degree of transport standardization, even if one uses a free-return cycler, and so the ISS isn’t necessarily an albatross tied around the neck of NASA, even if there are plenty of people willing to proclaim it as such.

Plinius cemetary

I could give a talk on cislunar space and the Moon, but no one knows who I am or why they should listen to me, so the museum is concerned that approximately 99% (or more) of the 200 seats in the auditorium would go unfilled were I to do so. Probably a valid concern, though I’d like to think it would be closer to 95% vacant.

The NASA Lunar Science Institute has just joined up with a couple boxes of materials, although they are concerned about getting materials specifically to educators. I had to tell them that if someone self-identifies as an educator at one of our displays then we can hook them up, but unless they say something then we have no idea. The McDonald Observatory is also going to be sending some nice postcards for the Lunar Sample Bags.


Marketing of the event is going to kick off in early June once the art show is up, and will be a splash on the museum’s website. I then have to go around to all of the major online event calendars and post the event, with a pointer to the museum’s website. We’re going to print up a bunch of 8.5×11 mini-posters and try to get all of the members of the participating organizations to each post one at a library or used bookstore or record shop or anywhere else they can find a community bulletin board. Libraries are the big one here, as that’s the kind of self-motivated audience we’re looking for.

I may to try to see about getting announcements on local radio stations. Back in the early 90s when I was a volunteer DJ (DJ Ken) on WBER 90.5 FM (The Only Station That Matters) in upstate New York we used to have to read announcements and community calendar stuff every twenty minutes. I guess I’ll have to check around the bottom end of the dial here in the metroplex to see if anyone still does that kind of public service stuff.


My big secret wish is to get a show on KERA’s Think with Krys Boyd. Back in 2007 when we had the ISDC here I kind of forced the issue with NSS HQ to get George Whitesides on the show to talk about the conference. Which he did, sort of. My intent was to have him mention that the ISDC was open to the public and that Day Passes were available, though that message didn’t get conveyed. They also got a show immediately after the conference with Rusty Schweickart to talk about his B612 Foundation. So there is some precedent. My guess is that they’ll have Bruce on, and perhaps myself (I do have a face for radio), though I’ve already asked Starman if he would be the standby in case they want someone actually important in the local space community to be on the show.


And that, in a nutshell, is how I put together a public outreach space event that’s fun for everyone. It’s not entirely a flawless process, but the end result should work out well. I am seeing a certain receptiveness to sending outreach materials that I haven’t seen much before, and a lot more folks seem much more approachable about helping out. My hope is that this is in part a recognition that this is a local community grassroots effort. I suppose that makes me something of a ‘community organizer’, although that’s not an appellation I would use myself. I just like to think of myself as a Moon guy who wants his community to know a lot more about space and how important it can be for our economy, and Moon Day is a good way to do it.

Space Shuttle Launch #NASATweetUps, Past and Present

Space Shuttle Atlantis is poised to launch to the International Space Station, and NASA is hosting a Twitter meet-up, or tweet-up, at the launch.

If you’re one of the 150 lucky invitees attending the shuttle launch as guests of NASA, I can tell you from personal experience that you are in for a huge treat. This is only the second time that NASA has opened the gates of Kennedy Space Center to space tweeps for a shuttle launch. By very good fortune, I was there for the first.

NASA Tweet-Up Sign

The confirmation email arrived while I was at work. I could hardly believe it; in fact I briefly entertained the thought that it was a prank on the part of some of my colleagues. But it was official: I was invited to attend the launch of STS-129. In no time at all I went from “hmmm, it’s a long way to go” (I live in Christchurch, New Zealand) to arranging leave and airline tickets. It was the chance of a lifetime, and as my very understanding partner explained it, “Don’t be an idiot, of course you have to go!”

100 New Friends

On the first day of the Tweet-Up we all met in the parking lot outside the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s complex. I spotted the first of the other space tweeps while walking from my rental car to the registration table, and we quickly fell into conversation. One of the neatest things about the whole two day event was that whoever you talked to, you made a friend. The space tweeps were some of the most genuinely friendly people I have had occasion to meet. They came from all walks of life – teachers, IT people, an astrophysicist or two, a film-maker, even a couple of NASA employees. But no matter who you talked to, you had an instant common interest. By the end of the first day, when some 30 or 40 of us descended en masse on an unsuspecting Titusville restaurant, I felt like I had made 100 new friends.

One thing I didn’t do that I later regretted was to make up some contact detail cards to give out to the people I met. I had thought about it, but ran out of time before I traveled. Others had not only thought about it, but done it, and it proved to be a great way to swap contact details. Photographing people’s NASA-issued ID badges (with their permission, of course) was another good way of remembering faces, names and twitter handles.

The Kennedy Space Center Rocket Garden

Once we were registered on that first day, we had about half an hour to kill before the official kickoff at the Kurt H Debus Conference Facility. That was just as well, because the first thing you see as you walk toward the visitor complex is a tantalizing view of the rocket garden. After a quick reconnoiter of Titans and Atlases and a Saturn 1B, I discovered that the conference facility itself hosts the Early Space Exploration exhibit, which is well worth taking some time over. Not only does it have Neil Armstrong’s Apollo space-suit, but Gemini and Mercury capsules, and a lot more, including the original Mercury mission control consoles. Standing next to the space capsules, you really get an appreciation of how small and cramped they are. Frank Borman and Jim Lovell spent two weeks in orbit wedged shoulder to shoulder in a Gemini capsule, to prove that people could survive in space for the length of time it would take to get to the Moon and back. How they did it and stayed sane, I will never know. It’s a cliché to talk about the courage and endurance of astronauts, but it’s become a cliché because it’s the truth. I could have spent a lot longer looking through the exhibits (and did a couple of days later after the tweetup), but it was time for the day’s main event.

Frozen Smoke: Aerogel from the Stardust mission
A piece of ‘frozen smoke’ – Part of the aerogel particle collector from the Stardust mission

We were all ushered into the conference room, which was set up with a number of round tables, so that we all sat in groups, and a small stage at the front for the speakers. Each table had an unusual object on it, some stranger than others, and we were invited to guess what they were. My table’s object was pretty easy – a Space Shuttle thermal protection tile. We all passed it round and felt how light it was. I’m still amazed at the thought that I got to hold a piece of the shuttle in my hand. Another table had one of the hold-down bolts that pins each shuttle solid rocket booster to the pad before lift-off. Probably the coolest one was a piece of aerogel, a small blue-ish cube of quite literally the lightest solid material imaginable. Aerogel is often referred to as ‘frozen smoke’, as it is 99 percent empty space. What made this particular sample so cool is that it was part of the particle collector from the Stardust space mission – it had traveled several million miles away from the Earth, collected samples of interstellar dust, and returned in its unmanned probe, and NASA was letting us hold a piece of it!

The twitterfall
The ‘twitter-fall’ of of real-time tweets from #NASATweetUp

Next up was a series of talks from NASA officials, including astronaut Mike Massimino, and Wayne Hale, a former shuttle flight director, then shuttle program manager, now deputy associate administrator for strategic partnerships. When these guys spoke, everyone listened, and the stories they told were fascinating. Of course, this was a room full of twitter users, so the way everyone listened was heads down, keyboards out, and typing furiously. A twitter-fall of all the tweets in real time was projected onto large screens at the front of the room. Occasionally, the real-time feedback to the speakers was hilarious. “Oh- ok, so I know you’re all listening, even though no-one’s looking at me, because I just saw what I was saying on the wall!” With 100 people tweeting solidly all morning, the #NASATweetUp certainly got noticed in the Twitterverse – at one point we rose to number three on the trending topics.

The lunchtime break was a great time to explore the KSC visitor complex, and many of us tried out the Shuttle Launch Experience ride. Some of us more than once :) And I suspect that the hundred of us put a noticeable blip into the gift shop’s sales figures for that day.

Tour to the Launch Pad

In the afternoon we boarded buses for a tour of the space center. Where I was really hit home for me as the bus turned a corner and the iconic towering bulk of the Vertical Assembly Building came into view in the distance. The bus continued on, and the VAB grew larger – and larger – and larger. That building is huge! I’d seen it so many times in pictures and on NASA TV, and now I was actually there. I could just imagine a giant Saturn V rocket emerging slowly from one of those massively tall hangar doors. Now, it houses the shuttles as they are stacked in preparation for flight.

Nestled at the base of the VAB is the launch control center, containing the firing rooms from which the complex process of launching a shuttle is directed. The bus continued on past that, to the dock where barges bring the big orange External Tanks from their assembly facility in Michoud. From there we went past the crawler park, where the tracked crawler transporters live when they are not taking a shuttle stack out to the launch pad (or in days gone by, a Saturn V moon rocket). Just past the crawlers, we saw several as-yet-unstacked sections of the launch gantry being assesmbled for the new Ares rocket, then we were on a road running parallel to the crawlerway, out toward the launch pads. We were on our way to meet shuttle Atlantis. About half-way to the pad, we passed a gantry-like building on our right, and our tour guide explained that that was the viewing platform from which members of the public were allowed to see the shuttle at the launch pad. But our bus kept on going right past it.

Space Shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad, tucked inside the Rotating Service Structure
Shuttle Atlantis on the launch pad, mostly obscured by the rotating service structure

We got out of our buses, into a roped-off grassy viewing area, just across the road from the space shuttle on its launch pad. I stood and gaped for a while. Even mostly hidden within its rotating service structure, the shuttle stack was a thing of awe. Today it sat silent, waiting, being prepared and checked out for flight. Tomorrow its engines would roar for eight short minutes, and then it would be in space, traveling round the world at eighteen thousand miles per hour.

Launch Day

For launch day, we were all to assemble at KARS park, from which we would be bused to KSC proper and the press site where our tweet-up marquee was. We all thought the traffic would be terrible, and no one wanted to miss the buses. Consequently, we were all there far too early – some of us well over an hour – and a bit of an impromptu tailgate party ensued while we waited. Eventually the buses came, and we were taken to the press area just behind the VAB, with the grassy area in front of the countdown clock that you often see on NASA TV, and a view of the shuttle on the pad in the distance out beyond that.

Twitter Central with the Vertical Assembly Building in the background
Twitter Central with the Vertical Assembly Building in the background

We were once again well catered for, in a marquee with full wireless connectivity and streaming NASA TV on two large flatscreen displays at the front of the room. Outside, we got to mingle with all the press representatives who had come to cover the launch. Once again there were a series of talks, this time from the guys who prepare the shuttle for launch. You could tell these folks loved their jobs (and who wouldn’t). We learned all about the shuttle systems, right down to how the hatch is sealed when closing the astronauts in for the flight.

At the beginning of the day, conditions were looking iffy for launch – there was a layer of cloud, the likes of which had caused launch postponements in the past. We all told each other that it would burn off before the mid-afternoon launch time. We all hoped that we were right. Luckily, we were.

The launch of a space shuttle is a true spectacle. We were as close as you can get to the launch, without being in one of the rescue armored personnel carriers parked a little further up the crawlerway. That’s still four miles from the pad. They keep you that far away for a good reason: the energies released are gargantuan. First there is bright light, and the distant shuttle rises noiselessly and slowly into the air. It picks up speed, trailing a magnesium-bright flare of white-hot rocket exhaust atop a pillar of white smoke. Then the sound finally hits you, a rumbling, crackling roar that seems to intensify as the shuttle climbs higher and arcs over away from you, till it seems that its mighty engines are pointed right at you. Then the sound fades, you can just make out the solid rocket boosters separating, and the rapidly receding shuttle is just a bright point, well on its way to space. Then everyone is quiet, and contemplative, and you take a moment to reflect on the fact that what you just saw was a machine made by people, harnessing tamed energies equivalent to a small nuclear bomb, with courageous astronauts riding inside it, and while you’ve been thinking about that, they are already floating weightless in space. It’s a profound and amazing experience, and there aren’t really words to do it justice.

Unless you’re seriously into cameras, don’t spend the launch hiding behind a viewfinder. Put all your gadgets down at t-10 or so, and just watch, and listen, and drink in the experience. If, as the shuttle arcs skyward, you find yourself swallowing a lump in your throat, or blinking away a tear, don’t worry about it, you’ll be in good company.

Freedom star and the return of the solid rocket boosters

I’m not normally a pessimist, but I’ve followed the Shuttle long enough to know that there is no guarantee of an on-time launch. Because I was coming from so far away, I was determined that I would see the thing launch even if it were delayed, and so I planned my trip to stay in Cocoa for several days after the nominal launch date.
Perhaps because I was so well prepared for delays, it was a flawless countdown and on-time launch. Not only did it give me a chance to visit the Orlando theme parks, but it had one unexpected side benefit: On the Thursday morning after the Monday launch, the booster recovery ships returned to port, towing the two white solid rocket boosters that had lofted Atlantis for the first two minutes of her journey to orbit. To get back to the processing facility, they have to come through the lock at Port Canaveral, which is a perfect time to catch them for a photo:

The Freedom Star and a Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster
The Freedom Star and a Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster

It meant an early start on a cold morning, but sure enough, the booster recovery ship Freedom Star came gliding past, with Atlantis’ right hand solid rocket booster in tow.

[Update 5/15 – Somehow, I managed to get my wires crossed. STS-129 was Atlantis, not Discovery. Corrected]

Space Economy Leadership Summit Debrief

Howdy everyone! I took a couple of vacation days this week, so that of course means Space Conference!


This time around it was the Space Economy Leadership Summit just down the road in Austin at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel on Congress Avenue. Put together by Phillips & Co., it aimed to look at “job creation and entrepreneurship for the next economic frontier.”

Things got started with a brief intro from the Texas Secretary of State, Esperanza Andrade, who extolled the virtues of doing business in the great state of Texas. One point she didn’t make (but I like to) is that Texas used to be considered worthless scrub land by pretty much everyone. It’s a harsh, stark, austere state with much danger awaiting the unwary,and those who do thrive here tend to be of a stouter stock than in most places. The harshness of the land also makes for a very pragmatic mindset. It is very difficult to wrest prosperity from the lands of Texas, and once wrested folks tend to be very possessive of it. That’s part of why we only let our legislature meet every other year. There’s work to be done and we don’t need political tomfoolery distracting folks from the tasks at hand.

Texas is, in my view, a perfect of analogy for the development of the near space frontier. If we can make Texas of all places a pleasant place to live (heaven on Earth for some of us), then we can make pretty much anywhere a pleasant place to live and that definitely includes the Moon.

One point she did make was that Texas has 30+ universities and 20 high schools that offer aeronautical courses.

Next up was Wayne Hale from NASA, a well-regarded commenter on the state of the organization. The essence of his talk was the question “Do we want to be China or do we want to be Portugal?” In this case we’re talking the 15th Century, when China was in the process of shutting down its huge Imperial fleet at the same time that Portugal was ramping up its exploration and trading efforts. One point that Wayne made regarded the mindset of the decision-makers in China, who were seeing the results of all the tradestuffs streaming back to Beijing and decided that hey, China had the best of everything already, the highest culture, the most advanced sciences, the biggest armies, the best food; for what did they need the rest of the world?

Except that it was Portugal and its European competitors, and their offshoots, which led the world into the 21st century, and now China is doing a very effective job of catch-up. So which do we want to be? The monolithic empire that seems to think it is the best at everything? Or one of the competitors for the abundant resources and energy of space that will be leading the world into the 25th century?

The first panel looked at the impact of the space economy. One number that was bandied about quite a bit was the $261.7Bn that the space sector contributes to the world economy. That’s not chump change, and it’s set to get bigger. Patti Grace Smith, formerly with the FAA and now an advisor to Bigelow Aerospace, was joined by Ken Bowersox of SpaceX, Dr. George Sowers of ULA, and Carl Walz of Orbital Sciences.

I did get to ask a question during this panel, so I asked the group if any effort was being made to design to a common payload interface, such that if I, as an entrepreneur, developed some kind of Murphy Coupe with rich Corinthian leather seats and an Apple-designed ergonomic interface, would I be able to stick it on any of the launchers proposed with basically no adaptation. Kind of like how I can stick a USB flash drive into a Dell, or HP, or Apple, or Fujitsu, or whatever. The answer from Dr. Sowers was noteworthy, in that he indicated that the military had the same concern with swapping payloads between launchers (the whole point of having multiple launch vehicles in the stable), and so had a Standard Interface Spec that both rockets were designed to.

This is encouraging, as it means there is going to be more opportunity for space vehicles to be separated launch vehicles in the context of who manufactures them. SpaceX shouldn’t care what launch vehicle their Dragons launch on, so long as people are buying Dragons. In fact, during a stand-down of the Falcon-9 (and SpaceX will have them, just like everyone else), the ability to continue to generate cash flows from the continuing sale of Dragon capsules could be a key strategic consideration. This also means that someone like Murphydyne Industries could design and build space vehicles without also having to design and build launch vehicles. That’s how entrepreneurial opportunities arise.

The next panel was on Green Space – Economic Growth at the Intersection of the Environment, Energy and Space. It was led by the host of the proceedings, Richard Phillips,and featured Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher of CSC, Nancy Colleton of the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, and Dan Thoma of Iridium. Adm. Lautenbacher was an engaging speaker, and spoke a bit about the biggest little company you’ve never heard of, CSC. Ms. Colleton noted the key role that Earth observation satellites play in the global economy, as well as the disconnect that people have regarding even the existence of such things. She was the first of many during the conference to note the quote offered up by some rube: “What do we need NOAA for? We’ve got the Weather Channel!”

I got to ask my second and last question of the day to Mr. Thoma, who had noted during his remarks that Iridium was in the process of working up the financing for their next round of satellites in a couple of years. I asked in general what kind of approach were they taking for the financing? Syndicated loan, debt instruments, or what? He said what. In this case Export Trade Credits, which can be financed. Sort of like accounts receivable financing, but not exactly. I can’t think of a better example at the moment since I haven’t looked at that sort of thing in a long while. He also noted that less that 10% of the Earth is served by terrestrial wireless, so definitely an ongoing market for satcomms.

During the lunch break we were treated to a canned pitch for the status quo from Congressman Pete Olsen, which was rather ambivalently received by the attendees, and a much livelier talk from Esther Dyson, who talked about her adventures in the space field.

The first set of presentations after lunch was on Universal Communications and the Promise of Global Connectivity. Greg Pelton of Cisco IRIS talked about the various ways that Cisco is looking at things like how to do IP (internet protocol IP, not intellectual property IP) in space. He noted that the latency of using GEO sats in the comm pipe is actually competitive with terrestrial wireless, and that expectations of consumers dropped once everyone started using cell phones. Also more advance stuff like machine to machine (M2M) and ‘cognition’ (in the sense of awareness of location in space (via GPS signals) and the ability of the sat to communicate.

James Hollopeter, of GIT Satellite Communications, talked about where the rubber meets the road, and how his company works as a middleman to work with consumers (individuals or, mostly, businesses) and satcomm suppliers to craft the best solution for both. Which is one of the best ways to build long-term business relationships.

Last up, Tiffany Montague from Google Space Initiatives gave an overview of Google’s activities spacewise. It was a well-received talk, and the guys were lining up afterwards to talk with her. Yours truly included, as I wanted to cover a couple of points:

1) I wanted to thank her because Google has been bery, bery good to Out of the Cradle (and she got the cultural reference). OotC is considered a “Low Priority” website by Google Webmaster, but it shows up on the front page of a lot of space-related search queries. She averred that that spoke to the quality of the content, because you can’t game their engine. Dang she’s good.

2) I wanted to develop a bit of a rapport, so I mentioned a couple of younger folks I know that she has worked with, including Amanda Stiles (one of my competitors for Lunar expert), as well as Robbie Schingler and Jessy Cowan out at NASA Ames, so we chatted a bit about efforts like CoLab.

3) The main point of my visit was to ask her if she could get on the different Google Lunar X-Prize teams to respond to the EVA Interview requests. Eva’s had two teams so far respond to the questions she sent out through the X-Prize Foundation (and one with Will Pomerantz), so I figured maybe if Google dropped them a note encouraging them to respond we would get even more interviews up for everyone to learn more about the competition. So I’ve got to send her a reminder, one of many e-mails I’ve got to put together this weekend.

This little endeavor kept me occupied during the first half of the next panel (since I did have to wait in line), and so I only saw the last bit of Hal Hagemeier’s presentation from the National Space Security Office, and then James Baker’s talk from MEI Technologies.


The last panel of the day was on Job Growth, Entrepreneurship and U.S. Competitiveness, led by Doug Comstock of NASA IPP. Micah Walter-Range from the Space Foundation gave an overview of their recent market survey report, which shed a bit more light on the mysterious $261.7Bn figure noted above. I haven’t seen the report yet, so I don’t know the methodology used to arrive at the figures (a key bit of information if one is to do analysis), but they break down roughly as follows:

Commercial Infrastructure: $83.6Bn
Infrastructure Support: $1.2Bn
Commercial Satellite Services: $90.6Bn (yowza!)
International Governmental: $21.8Bn
Government (pres. U.S.): $64.4Bn
Commercial Space Transportation: $0.1Bn (actually, $80.0Mn, which rounds to $0.1Bn)

As I said, I don’t know how they got these figures, so I won’t comment on them (other than the remarks above). Micah’s supposed to send me a copy for the Lunar Library, so yet another e-mail to compose this weekend.

Peggy Slye of Futron provided further details, as did Mary-Lynne Dittmar, whose Dittmar Associates has done extensive market research in different space-related areas. Jeff Krukin was, of course, Jeff Krukin, and if you haven’t seen him speak then make sure to sign up for the next Space Frontier Foundation conference.

Closing remarks were provided by Richard Garriott, who covered the perils and pitfalls of being a citizen astronaut. I approached him about possibly being a speaker at the Moon Day event I’m putting together for July 18th at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas. He’s got to check his scheduled but he indicated he’s interested. If I can get both Richard and Anousheh Ansari to speak at the event that should certainly be newsworthy. Or at least should be.

Afterwards, everyone was bused up to the Texas State History Museum at MLK and Congress for cocktails and munchies, and a long address by Buzz Aldrin. Kudos to Buzz for getting out there and proselytizing, but I’m not getting the feeling that the younger folks are really buying into it. Sure, some are, and people will always cluster to get his autograph, but does that translate into a deeper appreciation for the subject? I appreciate his efforts, but younger voices are needed. Unfortunately, the youngest man to walk on the Moon so far was born in 1936, so there’s not a big pool of talent to work with except for a whole bunch of us wannabes. I do have to admit that I’ve seen him speak many times over the years, most recently at the inauguration of efforts at Richland College to restore the Buzz Aldrin Planetarium where he gave mostly the same talk, and so it may not hold the same magic as it does for others to be in the presence of living transcendental history.

Which brings us to the topic of demographics. There were between 50-70 folks there during the day. I couldn’t identify more than about a dozen of them as being of Gen X or less. 20% isn’t bad, but it should be higher. I should drop Mr. Phillips a note about advertising the next one at the MBA school up the road at UT.

Props go out to Paragon SDC, whose man Shawn was probably the youngest person there. I’ve got to drop him a line about the Houston office of Paragon maybe participating with a display or speaker on their activities at my Moon Day event. That the company paid to send someone up to Austin for an event like this speaks well of their desire to cultivate their assets, something that’s all too rare these days. Speaking of cultivating assets, Tiffany Montague was a terrific ambassador for Google, and she was out canvasing for prospects throughout the event.

The point is, there should have been at least 70 youngsters (Gen X and under) at the event. There should have been more corporate presence from the many support companies, like Oceaneering, that have an economic presence in the state. That there wasn’t certainly wasn’t the fault of the organizers, and I think this was a terrific start to something that I hope they will continue, perhaps traveling around the great state of Texas to allow different pools of participants to contribute their own flavor to the proceedings. Texas is ripe with the kind of pioneer stock we need to get a real human spaceflight enterprise going, the kind that does generate more value than it consumes, and thereby grows the wealth of its backers.

Overall, I think it was a good conference. I learned a few things, did some networking, enjoyed the pleasures of the capitol area of the city. This was supplemented by a rather successful haul of materials for the Lunar Library from a variety of Half-Price Books (HPB) and Austin Comics, both of which I’ve been shopping since I was a little punk-a@# junior high schooler living over by the old airport back in the late 70s, fresh back from England and culture shocked beyond belief. HPB has also been bery, bery good to the Lunar Library over the years, and this year was no exception. From the hard-core 1964 edition of “Rocket Propulsion Elements” (the equations! the graphs! the diagrams! Total geek pr0n!) to a Christian fiction book, “Zero-G”, where a space tourist finds G-d.

One thing that did surprise me was the amount of local press coverage, something we don’t usually see much of up here in the metroplex. Some examples:

Examiner.com – Buzz Aldrin lights up Austin Space Summit
Austin-American Statesman – Summit explored space as the next economic frontier
weareaustin.com – Buzz Aldrin visits Austin, talks about future space travel
News 8 Austin – Leaders discuss job creation for ‘next economic frontier’
KXAN –Future of space trips debated in Austin


Next up on the space business conference circuit is the 8th Space Investment Summit on May 26th up the road in Chicago. As in years past, it’s being held in conjunction with the NSS’s International Space Development Conference, which runs through Memorial Day. The programs for both events are still being finalized, but it looks like a powerhouse line-up.


Coming up later in the summer is the dynamic duo of the NASA Lunar Science Forum 2010 from July 20th through 22nd, and then the NewSpace 2010 conference from July 23rd through 25th, both out in Silicon Valley.

Some folks may be focused on building a particular rocket, or going to a particular destination, but there are also a lot of folks focused on growing the space industry into an even greater contributor to the country’s GDP. For the latter, there are many interesting opportunities coming up in the near future.

“Twin Spica, Vol. 1” (manga)

Kou Yaginuma
“Twin Spica, Vol. 1” (Futatsu no Supika)
Vertical, Inc.
2002 (2010)
ISBN13: 978-1-934-28784-2
Publisher’s Web Site

Librarian’s Note: Some fresh space manga for young American audiences. Young Asumi applies to the Tokyo Space School, and is accompanied by a lion-headed spirit that helps guide her through the trials of life. The protagonist is 13 years old, so I can easily envision readers as young as 9 or 10 enjoying this one.

Review: “The Big Splat, or How Or Moon Came to Be”

The Big Splat, or How Or Moon Came to Be” by Dana Mackenzie. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. in 2003, it weighs in at 232 pages all-in. No errors noted.

Having looked at the origins of the Moon from a Christian creationist perspective, I figured it would be a good idea to take a look at what the scientific community thought about Lunar origins. So I turned to the Selenology (or Moon science) section of the Lunar Library and The Big Splat seemed to be a perfect choice.

In the Introduction, the author looks at Genesis Revisited, quickly summarizing the history of thought regarding Lunar origins, and the noting how the application of the tools of science changed the way we approach the idea of the source of our companion Moon. On our first visit to the neighborhood of the Moon, Apollo 8’s circumlunar swing on December 24th, 1968, the crew read from the text of Genesis, imparting a call to the spiritual nature of humanity’s endeavors, wherever they may occur.

In the first chapter, we look at how our companion Moon has waned from an integral part of timekeeping and spirituality in human culture to a marginalized object supplanted by the advent of science. Technological lighting methods diminished the Moon’s role as a nighttime guide. A better understanding of the Earth’s place in the Solar system led to the adoption of a Solar calendar, though there are still many cultures that abide by the Moon’s guidance. We learn of notable figures in history who helped divine her secrets, her characteristics and her cycles.

Chapter two continues the recounting of history, and we learn of Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, Aristarchus and Aristotle,as well as lesser known Lunar-associated figures such as Plutarch, Lamprias, and Pharnaces.

Chapter three moves the story to the early 17th Century, as science and reason were blossoming throughout Europe. Two gentlemen are the focus of the discourse – Kepler and Galileo, who did more to popularize space science amongst a broader audience than any other of their time. We end with Riccioli, whose basic nomenclature for Lunar features is the methodology we use to this day.


Later in the same century, science and mathematics took a big leap when Newton burst upon the scene, and in the next chapter we examine how his principles led to a leap in understanding the seemingly clockwork nature of our Solar system. By the next century the questions were moving away from how it works to where it came from. Folks like Buffon and Kant were postulating ideas on how the grand forces of physics could have led the Universe to today, but it was Laplace who became known for the ‘nebular hypothesis’, whereby the planets and their moons formed from a nebula surrounding and providing the feedstock for the nascent Sun. Also noted is the role of navigation in uncovering the fact that the Moon’s orbit is not as clockwork as one would assume it should be.

It was in the 19th Century that the next major hypothesis for the origin of the Moon was promulgated, by George Darwin, son of the more commonly known Charles. George worked on the science of tides, specifically tidal bulges, which occur when one massive body is in the vicinity of another. Everyone knows the Moon pulls on the water of the oceans to create the tides (in conjunction with the Sun), but it also pulls on the ground. He worked through the mathematics and realized that months were getting slightly longer, which begged the question of what happens when you run the time arrow backwards? This implies an intersection at some point in the past of the Earth and Moon, which implies that the Moon came from the Earth. What would be the physics that would make that happen, where the Moon would fission off from the Earth and escape to orbit. It was a tough slog to try to make the mathematics work, and the idea of a Daughter Moon never really found favor.

Another compelling theory is visited in the next chapter, that of the Captive Moon. This idea holds that the Moon formed elsewhere in the Solar system, went on an errant journey (perhaps nudged by Jupiter), and ended up captured in orbit by the Earth. In this chapter we learn of Thomas Jefferson Jackson See, who championed this explanation for the Moon’s origin. T.J.J. See may not have been the most pleasant of individuals to deal with, but his theory had a certain elegance of orbital mechanics to it, if only the numbers could be made to work, something that scores of scientists pursued over the next century. We’re introduced to the concept of the Roche limit, the distant from a large mass at which a smaller mass begins to feel gravitational differences between the point nearest the large mass and the point farthest from the large mass sufficiently large that it begins to tear the smaller mass apart. This is what is believed to have torn apart Comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 prior to its plunge into Jupiter. Ultimately, the mathematics of capture couldn’t be reconciled with reality, and it remained a plausible, but not proven theory.

Next up is the concept of a Sister Moon, where the Earth and Moon co-accreted near each other in space. We learn more about the work of Roche, as well as others that worked out the physics of accretion in early stellar systems including Safronov, who worked out many of the details of how accretion works.

So by the dawn of the space age there was still a lot unknown about our closest neighbor in space, let alone destinations beyond. It was widely held that the craters of the Moon were largely of volcanic origin, and that vast seas of ash and dust would swallow any spacecraft that presumed to pose upon the surface. It was during this popular wisdom that Baldwin published a book that threw a monkey-wrench into the works, alleging that the craters were actually the result of collisions. Being an outsider to the Ivory Tower of academic knowledge, his theories were controversial, but he had solid evidence on his side, as we had learned much about cratering from two worldwide wars. One scientist inspired by this book was Shoemaker, another Urey, both of whom would have a significant impact on Lunar science. On the eve of Apollo, the ideas were flying fast and furious as more and more bright people took the time to cogitate on the topic of our Moon.

Chapter nine covers the Apollo missions, and provides an overview of some of the bigger questions that seemed to be answered, like “How old is the Moon?” and “What is the Moon made of?” As the scientists worked over the samples, a general consensus began to arise as to the general steps the Moon took once formed to arrive at its present state. Left unanswered was the question of what caused the Moon to form.

In the next chapter the clues start to come together. A paper had been written in 1946 that called into question whether the Moon may have had some kind of glancing blow with the Earth. 1950 saw the publication of Velikovsky’s “Worlds in Collision”. Apollo proved definitively that most of the craters on the Moon were of impact origin, and as we looked around the Solar system we could see evidence of impact everywhere. Four scientists, Hartmann, Davis, Cameron & Ward, started homing in on the theory that reconciles so much of the evidence on hand that for many it is “the” way that the Moon formed.

It wasn’t until the mid-80s that all of the pieces started clicking into place, and the next chapter explores the Kona Consensus that developed out of a conference on selenogony, or the origin of the Moon. As paper after paper was presented, scientists realized that a cogent and rational explanation for the Moon’s origin was coming together. A report card prepared about the different theories shows why it was so compelling. The mathematics of the event had been well worked out in computer modeling. The chemistry was favorable, and readers get an introduction into the chemistry and mechanics of rock dating techniques.


The last chapter introduces us to Theia, the alleged impactor and mythical mother of Selene. Since no one was around to observe it (yet, time travel may not be beyond the realm of possibility, although I believe it is), there are many unknowns. One obvious question is ‘Where is the hole?’, to which George Darwin would probably answer ‘The Pacific’, but in reality the impact totally rearranged the Earth, incorporating both original bodies (proto-Earth and Theia) into both subsequent bodies (Earth and Moon). The author lays out the timeline of events, from impact to about 3.2 billion years (gigayears, or Gy) ago, when the Moon finally became somewhat quiescent, and then the present.

In the appendix, the question of ‘Did We Really Go to the Moon?’ is addressed. I am so over this particular topic, but like a parasite it seems it will evermore be rediscovered by new generations and need refuting time and time again, which is a complete waste of resources. The Lunar Library has a number of the Moon-hoax titles, which are bunk, and management would rather not waste acquisition budget on any more of them. The author presents several compelling examples, including the fact that it’s possible to actually contact the scientists with questions. Not mentioned is the fact that we found five (5) new minerals on the Moon which had not been seen previously (though Tranquillityite was later found in South Africa).

Rounding out the book are a nice glossary, some references, acknowledgements and an index.

What’s nice about this book is that it is written for a general audience. The author is completely frank about the fact that the science sometimes went over his head, and he is careful to frame things as ‘scientists explain-this is how it’s done’. It makes a nice counterpoint to the Moon origin books previously reviewed, as the explanations are laid out at the end of a chain of logical steps. Objective evidence is offered in support of assertions, evidence that exists in physics irrespective of the presence of humans. The flow of the writing is easygoing and engaging, making for a pleasurable read. The author prefers the term Big Splat to the more commonly known Big Whack, and he has good reasons why.

This one gets a Full Moon rating.

“Jour J: Les Russes Sur La Lune!”

Duval, Fred & Jean-Pierre Pécau. Illus. par Philippe Buchet
“Jour J: Les Russes Sur La Lune!”
ISBN13: 978-2-756-01866-9
Publisher’s Web Site

Librarian’s Note: Wow, a very unusual story. History changes when a small asteroid ruptures the Eagle LEM, dashing the hopes of the Americans to be the first on the Moon, allowing Валенти́на Терешко́ва to make the first landing a few months later. This completely changes Nixon’s views on a Moon base, and the world pursues a different space trajectory which takes a surprising turn.

“Our Created Moon: Earth’s Fascinating Neighbor”

DeYoung, Don & John Whitcomb
“Our Created Moon: Earth’s Fascinating Neighbor”
Master Books
ISBN13: 978-0-890-51581-5
Publisher’s Web Site
Out of the Cradle Review

Librarian’s Note: Since I published a review of the prior edition of this title, that review has been the single most visited article here at OotC, with almost twice as many as the next most popular one. Not many comments, though. I also picked up another Christian creationist theory title, “Taking Back Astronomy” by Jason Lisle, PhD, who gets a thorough fisking (by a rather reasonable Christian, though with some conjecture in his summary) over at C Sharp.

“Space Base & Satellite Explorer” (model)


“Space Base & Satellite Explorer”
J Lloyd International Inc.
Publisher’s Web Site

Librarian’s Note: So new it’s not even up yet at the manufacturer’s website, at last there’s a new, non-shuttle model kit to work on. I picked up the copy for the Lunar Library at my locally-owned and operated hobby store; when I find a good online link I’ll attach it.

No Industry for Young Men?


So I got an interesting e-mail today. One of the organizers of this year’s ISDC sent out a message to the NSS leadership noting that:

I notice that our ISDC is NOT doing a very good job of attracting young speakers in the space (not entrepreneur) community, i.e., the upcoming think[er]s and doers. We need to be alert to find who they are and seek them out, early.

Historical note: We were the first to showcase Robert Zubrin, and from that exposure he went on to revolutionize our ideas about how we will conduct space exploration and settlement.

Who are the undiscovered Zubrins out there now?

I found this interesting, as one of the ideas I’ve been stewing over of late is a post on who the young up-and-comers might be in the space field. The charts in my previous post clearly demonstrated that there is not a healthy pipeline of talent being cultivated at NASA, nor in the aerospace sector, and any private company would look at the age brackets and flip. Having the bulk of your payroll at the top end of the scale is not sustainable, and doesn’t leave you with much payroll to fill out the lower end.

So what follows are some of the names that I’ve come across in my varied space adventures over the last decade. I can’t swear that any of these folks will be NASA Administrator one day, but they have been standouts in their efforts, overachievers even. This list should not be taken to be definitive, nor comprehensive, just representative.

1) George Whitesides
I met George at the Space Generation Forum (SGF) back in 1999. I don’t remember which project he worked on, but it wasn’t the business stuff I that I worked on. Five years later we met again at the 2004 ISDC in Oklahoma; George as the newly minted Executive Director of NSS, and myself as Chapter President of NSS of North Texas and not too many years out of ISU. We talked about how we need to work with and coordinate better with all of the other space groups, perhaps even co-temporalizing space conferences. Three years later I co-chaired the 2007 ISDC in Dallas, and all of the other local space groups got involved in making it happen, and we had not only the first Space Investment Summit held in conjunction with the ISDC, but also a meeting of the Aerospace Technology Working Group immediately prior to our conference, with the result being that the output of those prior conferences was feeding into my conference through all of the people that stuck around through the weekend, some even giving presentations.


George launched a number of initiatives for NSS, one of the more significant being the Space Ambassadors program run in conjunction with Virgin Galactic, which has been a big supporter of the ISDCs, and should maybe think about showing off their newest craft at this year’s conference in Chicago. George has since moved on from NSS, and now works in a fairly high level position at NASA Headquarters. He’s known to be competent and a straight-shooter, which is one of the reasons I’m not overly concerned about what’s going to happen with the changes at NASA. I do empathize with the crappy job he’s going to have over the next few years helping navigate NASA through the choppy waters of the changes it faces.

2) Loretta Hidalgo-Whitesides
I also met Loretta at the SGF. I’ll admit, I had a bit of a crush on her, brainy scientific chick and all that, but the feelings were definitely not mutual as she fell prey to a common prejudice against NYC bankers. Can’t say I blame her necessarily. 😉 She finally warmed up to me during a stop on our SGF trip to Graz when I was examining some interesting looking mountain succulents that I hadn’t seen the like of before and asked her about them.


Our paths next crossed in LA in 2001 when I was interning at Boeing under Andy Aldrin and Brent Sherwood. She had come up with a clever way to celebrate her birthday, which date coincided with Gagarin’s launch in 1961 and the first flight of the Shuttle in 1981. She tapped into her networks through SEDS, NASA Academy, JPL and others to put together a global space party – Yuri’s Night. That first year she had a phenomenal party in LA, with a Moon rover, space info booths, videos,art and thumpin’ music. Yours truly helped staff the ISU information table, and sat in the ticket booth for a while. It was truly excellent and one of my best memories from ISU. The party is notable for being celebrated on all seven continents and in space, and it completes its first decade this year.

Loretta’s motto is “I train leaders”, something she’s held true to over the years. She’s arranged telescope distributions in Africa, continued the SGF legacy through the Space Generation Advisory Council, blogged for Wired, was on the flight staff of Zero-G Corp., and more. There’s no question that hers is a name that you will be increasingly seeing in the future.

3) Will Pomerantz


Back in 2002, well after my ISU graduation, the closest thing I got to a space job was as Program Support and ISU Liaison for the 2002 NASA Academy at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, a ten-week contractual engagement. The Director’s Discretionary Fund (DDF) that funded the NASA Academy didn’t have enough for my meager stipend, so the Tech Transfer Office underwrote it in return for a project on Tech Transfer opportunities in the DDF projects. It was kind of cool collecting data on bleeding-edge projects like LIDAR and adiabatic demagnetization refrigeration which are common now.

One of the regular Research Assistants that I was charged with chaperoning over the course of the summer was a young Will Pomerantz. Mop haired and Harvard educated, he was quite interested in ISU. He was also a good example of the kind of folks that the NASA Academy looks for in its RAs – the future leaders of, if not NASA, the space industry. When I arranged for the Academy to attend one of Director O’Keefe’s visits to the Hill, in this case for a Congressional hearings that included the topic of education, he was right at home when the Congresscritters came down to talk to the Academy after the hearings. Will did go on to spend a year in Strasbourg to get a Master of Space Studies.

These days he hangs out at the X Prize Foundation as the Senior Director of Space Prizes, which allows him to see lots of really cool stuff. There’s no doubt in my mind that Will is going to be an ongoing leader in the space field.

4) Pamela Gay (a/k/a StarStryder)
I met Pamela at LPI during a special educational session held prior to one of the annual LEAG meetings. She and I were in a team on internet communications, and I could tell she and I were light-years ahead of the others in understandings the issues of internet communications. She has her long-standing Star Stryder blog, has done podcasts in conjunction with Universe Today, worked for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy (where she arranged to send a bunch of IYA astronomy goodies to my Moon Day event), and has even been on TV for “The Universe” series. She’s a strong force for astronomy outreach, and I’m sure she’ll be taking important positions in the astronomy field given her strengths in communicating its lessons.

5) Jeff Feige
I met Jeff at the 2005 ISDC in DC, when t/Space had a cool display of their capsule at the conference and he was working with them on political stuff (which I don’t have much interest in). He has strong entrepreneurial experience in space endeavors, and is currently serving as CEO of Orbital Outfitters, the one company you should think of for spacesuits when you go space diving.

6) Melissa Prebble
I met Melissa at one of the Lunar Commerce Roundtables (LCR, later Space Investment Summits), when she was under the tutelage of Paul Eckert of Boeing, who had helped arrange the LCRs. She later went on to do a Summer Session Program (SSP) at ISU and of late is working in advanced systems at Hamilton Sundstrand (the traditional spacesuit folks).

7) Amanda Stiles
I met Amanda at one of the ISDCs. I don’t remember which one, but what I do remember is that she was giving a talk about a Moon project and I was thinking to myself “Oh crap, competition in the Moon field and she’s way better looking than I am.” My fears may have been well founded, as she appeared recently at SXSW on a Moon 2.0 panel on behalf of the Google Lunar X Prize. (GLXP).


8) Benjamin & Cariann Higginbotham
My favorite space entrepreneurs, this dynamic duo created SpaceVidCast, the weekly High Def video news program with live chat. I finally met them in person at the 2009 ISDC in Orlando, and we had a long talk about space adventures. To me they represent the prototypical Gen X entrepreneurs, overachieving on basically zero budget. They broadcast from the Crow River Coffee Company in Watertown, MN to a global audience, taking space to places it has never been seen before with a peanut gallery in the chat room. Guests join via webcam and Skype, in the spirit of working with limited resources. This is one of the ventures that I truly hope succeeds.

9) Jonathan Goff
Agent provocateur at the Selenian Boondocks, Jon is noted for his work at Masten Space Systems, where he is a Propulsion Engineer. On the internet he is known for posing annoyingly simple questions that turn assumptions on their head. We met online back when the Return to the Moon BBS (a relic of the pre-web days) was still active. Amazingly, we have never met in person, even though I was guest blogger for a while at Selenian Boondocks, whose archives are an excellent exploration of engineering. I’m thinking Masten needs to send him to the ISDC. He has long been an advocate of cislunar infrastructure like propellant depots.

10) Derek & April Andreas
Several years ago Derek and April were officers in the local Dallas Mars Society and we worked on a number of projects together before they moved to California to work at SpaceX. SpaceX ended up sending them back to Texas to work at their engine test facilities in McGregor, but the Andreases are still active in Mars Society affairs. I think the Mars Society needs to start moving more folks like Derek and April into positions of authority so that they can refocus the Society on getting people and equipment to Mars. [My view is that the Mars Society is hampered by the ‘cult of personality’ associated with Bob Zubrin, and won’t flourish again until they move beyond him. Not abandoning him, but recognizing that Bob is but one part of the story of Humans to Mars]

That’s but a sampling of the folks that are working hard for space right now (and my apologies to those I’ve met who feel they should be on the list, mayhaps a follow-up post is in order), but you don’t normally hear about because they’re in the younger demographics. You’ll be hearing their names, and others, more often in the future.

One thing to remember about the younger generations is that they’re way more networked at their age than preceding generations. This is also true for the young space community, and the networks are a good place to go looking for talent. The ISU alumni network is probably the most potent space network on the planet. Its student body is drawn from the entire planet, and during my MSS degree studies I had classmates from 16 countries, including Israel, Libya, Nigeria, Brazil, Russia, China, Japan, and more. Its alumni and teaching network is reaching increasingly deeply into the established space industry, while also spawning innumerable entrepreneurial efforts.

That’s another thing about GenX, they’ve proven to be particularly entrepreneurial, almost twice as much so relatively speaking than the preceding generation, and those even younger are even more entrepreneurial. We’ve had no choice because we can’t go through life as temps and barristas. Temps don’t buy homes. This is one of the reasons why I’m happy with the proposed changes at NASA, because they increase the opportunity for entrepreneurs to create value-added product and deliver them to a growing market.

Other networks of note include the NASA Academy Alumni Association, whose members grace such places as Mission Control at JSC and Advanced Projects at Orbital Sciences Corp. SEDS has been around long enough to have a decent pool of alumni. The SGF alumni are a good place to look for talent, as well as its offspring the Space Generation Advisory Council, which has UN Observer status. Space societies are another place to look for space talent.

The younger talent is out there, but it hasn’t been necessarily cultivated, more left to tend to its own devices. This lack of mentoring is going to be critical during the changes that NASA is going to need to undergo. It is far easier to excise those functions for which there is no clear line of succession. What’s going to happen is that a lot of talent is going to be culled from the talent pool and moved to the private sector. Some of these folks will find jobs in other fields, some will continue to consult with NASA, and some will have skillsets so esoteric that they’re going to need retraining and yeah, NASA should probably help with that.

So perhaps it is time for the younger talent to step up to the plate and start making presentations at space conferences. In my case I’ve been turned down so often I don’t even bother anymore, but maybe I’ll apply to do a talk at the ISDC on Cislunar Space and the Moon. I’m going to be there anyway for Board of Directors stuff; the question is finding the time.

Oh, and another reason for youngsters to attend ISDCs? The SEDS folks can whip up some mean libations, the sort of things you’d expect when you get Chemistry and Physics geeks together with ersatz lab equipment and alcohol…

Carnival of the Egg Moon

Howdy everyone! Thing’s are certainly perking up for Spring, even with regards to our Moon, so I decided to throw together another Carnival of the Moon.


Recently, The Moon Society sent out a request to its members eliciting support for a book donation project to create a Lunar Resource Library in India. Moon interest is rather strong in India, and they’re the #6 visitor to Out of the Cradle, ahead of France but behind Australia and Germany. They have active chapters of The Moon Society and SEDS, and even have a Moon Miner’s Manifesto India Quarterly edition.

But they realize that the internet isn’t everything, and they’re looking to put together a physical library of reference books that can be used to develop Moon knowledge in India. Like a more focused version of the library at the Lunar & Planetary Institute down in Houston. My own personal collection overlaps that collection to some extent, but LPI has titles that I don’t have, though I do have a lot of stuff that they don’t have. The online Lunar Library (LL) catalogues almost the entirety of that collection (well over 2,000 items), and I have delusions of putting it to good use at a local university for a Lunar studies program before eventually bequeathing it to International Space University (ISU) for their eventual Lunar campus.

So India needs Moon books! It’s still kind of a nebulous project, because the organization, composed entirely of volunteers, needs to figure out things like aggregating the collection, clearing customs, and shipping it there. I’ve got a few dups in the LL that I’m going to forward. If you have an interest in this project, head on over to The Moon Society website and drop them a line.

Back here in the States, if you’re a student who wants to present research at a conference, but are coming up short of funds, LPI reminds us that the deadline for this year’s Gerald A. Soffen Memorial Fund 2010 Travel Grants (2x$500!) is coming up on April 15th. If you’re looking for other opportunities coming up, there are still a few left in the Scholarships for Space Studies article I posted back in November, including the Moon Art contest which also has an April 15 deadline for submissions.

If Moon art gives you a hankering for modern Moon stories, there are a variety of choices. Recently, Dr. Philip Harris donated the copyrights to both his original Moon settlement fiction story “Launch Out” as well as his brand new sequel, “Lunar Pioneers” to The Moon Society. “Lunar Pioneers” is currently exclusively to be found only in the Lunar Library. That’s right, folks, the entire text is available for free courtesy of the author, The Moon Society, and the Lunar Library. With the Moon settlement getting established, the young and restless start looking further beyond…



Another free source of modern Moon (and high frontier) fiction is the quarterly on-line magazine “Moonbeams“, which features short stories and is always looking for fresh submissions. Perfect for a portable electronic reading tablet. Still, if you’re an old-fashioned paper guy like I am, and you’re looking for some Moon stories for younger folks then you should stop by the Summer Space Reading Camp.

Over at The Once & Future Moon blog, Dr. Spudis articulates his belief that NASA has lost its way to the Moon under the new plans for how NASA is going to approach space. I don’t necessarily agree with his arguments, as I ask myself what is the destination of the U.S. Geological Survey? What is The Goal of the the Department of Energy? I don’t buy into the insistence that NASA needs to have a particular Goal or destination right at this moment.

I look at things like larger macroeconomic factors and how they interplay to look at what’s going to happen at NASA for it to keep or increase its relevance to generating value for the U.S. economy. The Old Guard is moving on, and reality is having to adapt to the fact that younger generations don’t necessarily do things the same way just because that’s the way it was done. I see the Apollo-architecture redux (throw everything away along the way) that was Ares I/V as an example of how this applies.

I saw it from a different perspective than most of the space-interested, though it was information that was available to those undertaking space outreach activities. NSS of North Texas periodically receives boxes of handout pamphlets relating to various NASA activities. These cover a variety of topics from ISS to Return to the Moon. We had numerous handouts for the Ares rockets, but people never took them, though the other topics rapidly disappeared. This left us lugging around large amounts of Ares handouts from event to event that folks in general just weren’t interested in.

This jibes with NASA’s own research from a couple of years ago, where they hired a communications consultant to help them figure out why NASA didn’t have more support in the general populace. One tidbit hidden in the results was that only about 14% of folks saw NASA as a rocket launching organization. This in spite of the fact that right now NASA is best known for the Space Shuttle.

So it’s time for NASA to stop trying to provide the National Space Transportation System (their own words), and instead help the U.S.’s industrial sector provide the solutions. That is a key way to grow the U.S. economy. This also taps into the demographic fact that those of Generation X have gone entrepreneurial at a rate twice that of the preceding generation, but current economic factors are driving an even stronger entrepreneurial urge in the succeeding generation. So we’re seeing a confluence of meta-factors that actually favors the new direction that NASA is going to have to undertake to make sure that the U.S. space industry grows ever stronger in contributing to GDP.

I don’t think you necessarily need a destination to work on aerospike engines for rockets. I do think you need work on custom alloys and foamed metal-ceramics that can likely only be produced in microgravity. I don’t think you need The Goal to work on things like orbital fuel depots scattered around cislunar space, or a Universal Docking Node that will allow for greater modular customization of orbital facilities, or a universal interface for the Atlas/Delta/Falcon/Ariane/Other 20mt class launchers. Let the market sort out what are the best crew vehicles to ride on top. Because I want mine with rich Corinthian leather seats.

Once you have infrastructure elements like orbital LEO facilities (at 51, 40, 28, and 0 inclinations, for example) and fuel depots on orbit, we can start thinking about vehicles that only travel in space and don’t necessarily need to lug around a heat shield for Earth return. Ditch the heat shield and beef up the radiation shielding. Modularity allows for things like a Bigelow module or two and a Progress module to set up shop at EML-1, or do free returns around the Moon for brief near-Moon visits. Once you have a facility at EML-1 and a ferry back and forth to LEO, then you have access to the entire Moon, and you can have a vehicle designed just for near-Moon operations. Once you’re on the Moon the first thing is to start getting oxygen, both to breathe, and to ship up to cislunar space so that shipments from Earth can be more valuable stuff instead.

Where NASA goes next is going to have a huge affect on where the U.S. space industry ends up. If it picks a goal, then we will end up with an optimized engineering architecture that ignores unnecessary (to that goal) technologies that may otherwise prove invaluable in developing cislunar space. We’ll end up with deadlines that get passed, and increased expenses from indulgent cost-plus contractors because NASA guys keep changing the specs.

Or, we can go with a more entrepreneurial approach where a variety of technologies are moved up the TRL ladder to help optimize how the U.S. approaches space development by letting the market determine the best approach.

Why the Old Guard can’t understand the kids today, courtesy of xkcd:


If you don’t think there is a generational shift that NASA is facing, I offer up a couple of slides courtesy of a presentation from the California Space Education & Workforce Institute. The first is an age distribution that is from calendar year end 2004 at the latest, so picture everything shifted to the right. I’m in the bracket (then 35-39, now 40-45) where you have the three lines intersecting, though an above average representation in the talent pool.


This second shows the age distribution of the aerospace workforce in general. I was trying to break into the field in the 2002-2003 timeframe, a time when that sector shed about 1/7th of its jobs (1/5th in the case of my demographic; I’m in the light blue bracket).


Any surprise that I went back into banking?


Like most folks, the closest I’m likely to ever get to space is to buy a piece of someone else’s adventure. Which can have its appeal. Heritage Auction Galleries is going to be holding a ‘Space Exploration Auction‘ on April 21st here in Dallas. Looking through the catalog I can see several items that would be interesting to add to the Lunar Library, I just wish more people would buy Moon books through the Amazon links so that I could have an acquisition budget for historical artifacts.


Why would Lunar Library LLC want to acquire historical artifacts? Why to share, of course. An example is the art show I’m putting together for this year’s Moon Day event at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas. I just got the go ahead to start putting together the pieces of the event, and since this is a non-decadal anniversary year I’m going to have to work extra harder to get to my goal of 1,000 attendees. I’ve finally accumulated enough Moon-related art and posters that I can actually put together the equivalent of a small gallery showing. The Lunar Quadrant Maps take up a fair amount of real estate now that they’re framed, but a perusal of the Cultura Lunaris section of the Lunar Library shows a lot of other goodies (Lunar Adventures, The Ultimate Sandbox, One Small Step, Asteroid Mine, Probe, Lunar Base, Plinius Cemetary, and more). I’m in the process of getting some of them framed over the next several months, and then the museum wants to exhibit them for 6-8 weeks.

The actual Moon Day event is on July 18th. Lots of planning to due for that one, and like last year I’m going to be posting about my planning efforts to help serve as a road map for those masochistic enough to to try to put together a space event with no budget in their own communities.

So what is the Egg Moon? It was one of the nicknames for the Full Moon in April back in Colonial days, an appellation that the Algonquins also used. The April Moon was more commonly known as the Planter’s Moon, reflecting the return of the fertility phase of the annual cycle. That’s why I’m looking forward, confident that the entrepreneurial phase we’re entering into in the human spaceflight sector offers fertile opportunity to accelerate the day when we’re transforming the grayfields of the Moon.

“Lunar Pioneers”


Harris, Dr. Philip R., w/Dr. David G. Schrunk
“Lunar Pioneers”
© The Moon Society
Author’s Web Site

Librarian’s Note: As a special treat for Lunar Library visitors, we’ve got a special gift from Dr. Harris and The Moon Society, the first edition of Dr. Harris’ sequel to his 2003 book “Launch Out“, about private efforts to establish a colony on the Moon. Here, for the first time anywhere, is the text for Lunar Pioneers. Each link is a MS Word file that is 1MB or less. Enjoy this tale of a possible Lunar future, courtesy of The Moon Society!

Front Matter
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11 pt. A
Chapter 11 pt. B
Chapter 12

My New Space Hero

Howdy all! I just wanted to post a little something about this year’s winner of the Intel Science Talent Search, who has become my new space hero.

Erika DeBenedictis, a senior at the Albuquerque Academy is doing research on what are variously known as low-energy trajectories, weak stability-boundary trajectories, InterPlanetary Superhighway trajectories, and more esoteric things along those lines. This is a relatively new way of looking at things like spacecraft trajectories in interplanetary space, made possible only by our much increased heft in computing capabilities and advances in the mathematical sciences, especially in things like chaos theory and fractals (also made possible by increased computing heft).

So her work is pretty complicated stuff. I know this because I stumbled upon the concept back in my early days of space interest. The year was 1999, or maybe 2000. I was sick of the financial shenanigans on Wall Street (I was credit analyst on the Wall Street Desk at BNP at the time), and wanted to see if I could break into a new field, one that was exciting and high-tech. I had gone to the UNISPACE III conference in Vienna that summer to serve in the Space Generation Forum, and had learned about International Space University. I was impressed with the caliber of the folks I met who were alumni of ISU, and was itching for a Masters degree. I didn’t want an MBA, because everyone and their dog has an MBA. Maybe a Master of Space Studies?

I joined the New York Space Society to learn more, as NSS seemed most broadly behind the idea of humans in space, something that was definitely a new, 21st Century industry that could lead to greater U.S. economic prosperity. It turned out that the chapter president was totally hot, which was definitely encouraging. One of our meetings was at a Mars-themed restaurant on the West Side called Mars 2112, and one of the folks who showed up was Ed Belbruno from Princeton. He introduced us to the concept of how the warps and folds created in 3-D space by gravity masses can alter how we perceive spacecraft trajectories.


The key concept is that at certain places in space a small change in trajectory can lead to big changes in where you end up. Sort of like if you’re on a surfboard near the top of a wave. Small changes in where you point the tip are going to have a big effect on where you end up on the beach.

This concept lay dormant while I learned traditional orbital mechanics at ISU, but it was at my internship at Boeing‘s Human Space Flight & Exploration (HSF&E) division, while I was working on my Master’s Independent Project on Cislunar Infrastructure Architectures, that I stumbled upon the idea again, and realized its importance in relation to the Lagrange points, especially the Earth-Moon L-1. A number of the papers I used are filed away over in the EML-1 section of the Lunar Library. When I made my presentation to the folks supervising me during my internship it wasn’t anything they hadn’t seen before, so I got some tough questions, but I think they were surprised that it was coming from someone who was effectively a complete outsider in the space field. I feel somewhat vindicated that the NASA Exploration Team (NExT) came to the same conclusion, as I learned on a NASA Academy field trip in 2002 where we got a briefing from one of the NExT guys. I was just sitting there flabbergasted as they presented EML-1 as a key strategic target in cislunar space.

In essence, these trajectories allow you to trade time for fuel. Fuel budgets for spacecraft that use these curves of space are measured in tens of meters per second of delta-V, or change in velocity. People are used to thinking in terms of kilometers per second of delta-V, so the comparison is something akin to the Shuttle’s OMS units as compared with the SMEs. Less fuel payload translates into more science payload, so this is a good thing.


This is not your daddy’s Hohmann trajectory

When coupled with what we’ve learned from the Hubble telescope and other attempts at human structures in space, it is possible to conceive of a network of robotic spacecraft (s/c) stationed around the Solar system providing ongoing data. When it’s time for an upgrade, once the replacement arrives on station the s/c gets kicked onto the interplanetary superhighway for a long journey back to near-Earth space. Once it arrives near the EML-1 point a tug goes out and ferries it back to the L-1 station. There crews service an ongoing stream of returning craft, adding new instrumentation, giving them a once over, and topping off the tank. Once the s/c is ready it gets kicked back onto the Interplanetary Superhighways to head back out to its station. Just in time for the replacement to come home for its service check.

One might ask what useful services these s/c could perform scattered at the various Lagrange points around the Solar system? The science fiction novel “The Venus Equilateral” proposed that a station crewed by super-engineers be placed at one of the Sun-Venus Lagrange points to provide communication with Mars when it’s on the other side of the Sun from the Earth. A probe positioned at the Sun-Mars L-1 could serve as the foundation for an eventual facility there to serve as a logistics point for the Mars system (i.e. including Phobos and Deimos) as well as the Asteroid Belt beyond. Of course, a s/c at Sun-Mars L-2 could help keep an eye on the Asteroid Belt, while one placed at each of the Sun-Jupiter and Sun-Saturn L-2s could keep an eye on the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. An earlier-warning system, so to speak.


Peace on Lagrange” by Hop David

So by tapping into these weak gravitational stability boundaries and the trajectories that can make use of them, we can significantly upgrade our science capabilities by providing ongoing upgrades to our tools instead of just throwing them into the void. That is the fundamental lesson of the Hubble telescope. By Hubble-izing our probes we can enable a much more robust and ongoing collection of data from around the Solar system, including earlier awareness of stuff drifting in from the nether regions.

Plus it would provide jobs for some of the engineers and techs at the EML-1 station. That goes towards making a case that we should have a crewed facility there.

The thing is, figuring out these trajectories is not easy. I realized early on that I should have paid more attention during the matrices section of calculus class back in high school, as the Euler transformations just did me in. I just don’t have strong calculus-fu, which is probably why I’m a banker and not an engineer.

And that’s why this young lady is my new space hero(ine). I can understand the concepts mapped out in the displays behind her in the picture at the MSNBC article linked above, and even explain them somewhat, I just can’t do the math that proves them. She can. Excelsior, Erika! Excelsior!

So do your math, kiddos, and think about space studies. $100,000 is nothing to sneeze at. It pays for a whole lot of college.

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 http://www.esa.int/esaMI/VMC/index.html.

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 http://civspace.jhuapl.edu/.

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 http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23isu10. 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.

“Tous Sur Orbite!” (DVD)

Gessner, Nicolas
“Tous Sur Orbite!”
Éditions Montparnasse
1997 (2004)
Publisher’s Web Site
Univers-Site.com Review

Librarian’s Note: A Region 0 (all zones) DVD I picked up during my visit to the 14th ISU Symposium, this is an absolutely brilliant educational overview of the Earth’s place in space over the course of a year. Excellent computer graphics allow for an easier understanding of any number of astronomical concepts, from calendars to the Moon’s motion in the sky. There is an English soundtrack, so I highly, highly recommend this DVD for educators. Absolutely top notch!

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