Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference - Reception

I am attending my first space-industry conference this week. As another first, it is the first conference I am attending as a member of the press. How fitting, then, that all these firsts will be at the first Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference? In a time when a lot of vagueness shrouds the future of American space exploration, a new conference breathing wind in commercial as well as government agencies and collaboration between them is very encouraging.

The conference started today in Boulder Colorado with a reception at the Millennium Harvest House Hotel. Sure, there was food and beverages, but I had no time for such Earthly pleasures - I wanted to spend my time speaking with as many people as I could rather than eat. For once I wasn't the space enthusiast in a room (or a company) full of people less bitten by the space bug. I was in a room packed with amazing people from a huge spectrum of space related companies and agencies.

I exchanged cards with several people and had several short conversations with several people, among them Matt and John from CSF and Alan Stern from SwRI. I ended up carrying a more lengthy conversation with two people working at NASA Kennedy Space Center - Charles Quincy, who's worked at NASA since the early days of the space shuttle and Dan Schultz. Our conversation circled around the NASA budget and suggested space program, Constellation, commercial space and the future of NASA.

Charles commented how money was definitely an issue with Constellation as our nation proved that with enough money it was possible to go to the moon and come back after a few short years. He also noted that there are several problems yet completely resolved in order to fulfil the vision of going to Mars or even a lengthy stay on the moon. One of the problems is the dust on the moon, which as Charles described it, is like broken glass. When that dust would cling to space suits, for example, brushing it off would damage the material leading to eventual failure of the space suite. The solution he described was to get the dust off by using electric charge, a system used in digital cameras to get dust off the sensor. We pondered about what was the current state of the flag planted on the moon by Apollo 11 - is it covered in this dust? Is it even still standing? We also talked about the space shuttle and how versatile it is landing like an airplane bringing people and payload to safety without requiring (for example) floating in the sea for hours waiting for a pickup.

When Dan joined the conversation, it shifted to commercial space and the future of NASA. Dan said that if we end up following the plan to have space gas stations and commercial space deals with bringing payloads and people to orbit, NASA of ten years from now could be radically different - not building any rockets, but doing a lot more research. We also talked about space tourism - both Charles and Dan were very confident in Virgin Galactic, its proposition and business plan. I liked how Dan described Florida as the place where you go to Disney World, take a Bahamas cruise and also go to space. He went on to describe a family going up to near space, and taking a picture of the family floating in the craft for Christmas cards.

I looked through the program and abstract volume and there are a lot of fascinating lectures as well as a press conference tomorrow at 12:15pm. I imagine at least part of the discussions will be over my head, but I am excited to be even a minute part of space history.


BrianShiro said...

When I met Yvonne Cagle several months back, she invited me to attend this conference and said she'd get me in. Unfortunately, I never heard back from her, so the opportunity passed. I'm glad you're there and hope it is as useful as it is inspiring.

Amnon I. Govrin said...

It's been interesting and I've met some interesting people. I'll follow up with a post about the experience and some of what I've seen and learned.

Jenissa said...

That's ME in the picture! OMG! That is soooo cool! And you did a great job describing how it felt to be at the conference! It was great to meet you.

Amnon I. Govrin said...

Thanks, Jenissa. It was great meeting you too. More posts coming about different aspects of the conference.