Sunday, April 21, 2013

Past and Future of Spaceflight at the Museum of Flight

Last weekend was a celebration of space at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. A Yuri's Night party and SpaceUp Seattle provided for both a celebration of the beginning of manned spaceflight 52 years ago and some contemplation about the future through part what's being done today, part what could be done.
April 12, 2013 was the fifty second anniversary of the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin. Then, the space race not yet fully in motion, a cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States of America, now a celebrated event that gets us an inch closer every year to be a truly unified planet, if only for a little while, rather than the savage territorial animals that still live inside us.

Landed the space shuttle. Welcome home, virtual astronauts.
This was the first Yuri's Night party at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The setting was promising - theCharles Simonyi Space Gallery, where the Space Shuttle trainer resides as well as quite a few space artifacts. After a few speeches by the Russian Consul General in Seattle Andrey Yushmanov and Chris Lewicki of Planetary Resources, a live jazz band provided the musical background to a party that suffered the most from a lack of people. A few conference-like stands including the National Space Society and Chasing Atlantis, a cool project to make a documentary about re-finding inspiration from space, were also present. The Space Gallery is a huge place for the several dozens who showed up, and compared to the party I went to three years ago, it felt more like a visit to the museum than a party. I hope that next year the elusive critical-mass of people would bring this party to life. Still, I got a date-night with my wife, met a Klingon with his Starfleet officer companion and landed the space shuttle safely twice, so no complaints here...

SpaceUp Seattle - Setting up discussion topics the unconference way. (Photo: Nat Seymour)
The day after, I got to experience several new concepts at SpaceUp Seattle. It was my first SpaceUp, first unconference and first time presenting in the Ignite format. SpaceUp, as an unconference, does not have a predetermined schedule. Instead, the attendees first suggest topics for discussion and everyone participates in shaping the day's schedule. Round tables provide an environment conducive of interaction and networking, and I indeed met very interesting people who I hope to collaborate with in the future.

Garrett Reisman - Falcon 2.0
Over the course of the day Erika Wagner, Business Development Manager at Blue Origin, presented recent progress of Jeff Bezos's alter-ego company. Garrett Reisman, former NASA astronaut turned Program Manager at SpaceX, talked about Falcon 1.1, which (in his own words) is in fact more like a Falcon 2.0, with its 30% longer tanks, 50% higher thrust, 3-string avionics compared to single-string in the Falcon 1.0 and different engine arrangement (eight in a circle rather than the square configuration of Falcon 1.0). To top that, the Falcon production line has been completely redone to scale-up from 4 rockets a year to 20.

For the rest of the day we talked about commercial space, asteroids and other space topics. The good parts about this format is that it flattens the hierarchy of presenter and audience and promotes new ideas and interesting discussions. However, the unknown nature of the topics and people bears a risk as much as it is a benefit.

The last session of the day was set aside for a series of Ignite talks - 5-minute presentations with 20 slides each that advance automatically every 15 seconds - no time to hesitate, pause or go on a tangent. It was a good exercise in conciseness and sticking to the point. Topics varied from space missions to how to buy a telescope. I presented Astronauts4Hire, and I hope that after a whole day of talking mostly about missions and hardware, talking about the often-neglected topic of the human workforce aspect of commercial spaceflight was interesting for the attendees.

Round tables at SpaceUp prompted lively discussions. (Photo: Jeff Slostad)
Overall it was an interesting event but admittedly one that will probably not result with any course adjustment or new projects advancing spaceflight. Yet the networking, continued discussion and the opportunity to present Astronauts4Hire was definitely positive and worth it. Together with Yuri's Night, this was a very spacey weekend this spring of 2013.

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