More ISDC Notes

by guest blogger Ken
ISDC 2007 Co-Chair

The rain continues here in Dallas, something we desperately need to recharge the lakes and aquifers, but it can also be a major pain. Many flights were cancelled coming into Dallas the night we expected the bulk of our arrivals, and many attendees were unable to secure a timely back-up flight. One example is the group of school kids from CA whose teacher had discovered the ISDC last year in LA. They were excited about checking out this year’s conference, and having 9 young volunteers would have helped with the logistics load, but in one of many strokes of bad luck we were suddenly left short-handed for the week-end when the earliest they could rebook a flight was Sunday afternoon.

One thing for which we had no shortage of volunteers was for ‘Pixel Guard’. In order to secure display of the Pixel at the conference, we had to watch it 24 hours a day. That means that a lucky few volunteers got to bed down with it overnight during the weekend. One suggested changing his volunteer t-shirt to read “I slept with Pixel and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

Speaking of happy kids, we received much gushing praise for our Kids Program (KP). There was a bit of a freak-out near the end about parents signing releases and the language to use. I wasn’t terribly worried, though, as I knew the kids would be in good hands. Our Kids Program was headed up by long-time chapter members Abigail and Roz. They have a lot of experience with fun space stuff for kids. Our chapter ran the KP at the 2004 ISDC in OKC, assisted in the 2005 ISDC KP in DC, and we do a lot of stuff locally. We also kept the location of the program hush-hush so that people wouldn’t be wandering into it.

Key, though, was the fact that we were able to secure a small amount of corporate underwriting from Raytheon locally (Thank you Raytheon!), which allowed the team to invest in some new space toys. This was secured by Derek and April of the Dallas Mars Society, who used half of the Raytheon monies received to put together a “Space Passport” program at the conference that had passport stamp locations in each track as well as at exhibitors. The remainder of the monies from Raytheon made Abigail very, very happy. And the kids very, very happy. And their parents very, very happy.

Did I mention “Thank You Raytheon“?

Which brings me to one of my pet peeves this year – the underabundance of corporate (a) underwriting/sponsorship and (b) exhibitors. We did manage to get a few, like Wyle Labs underwriting the Alex Tai lunch (which makes sense when you consider that Wyle Labs wants to do the medical stuff for space tourists), but it should have been a lot better. One of the key exhibits that is generating some buzz, the EMC2 Fusor, was put up by a local member, Mitchell, who was a member of SSI looking for a project to work on this year. He had his own agenda for his participation (fusion), and it seems to have done well for him. He also helped me with the local sponsor/underwriting efforts, from which we both learned a great deal. Still, it was a local display.

Question: Why do 100,000 people show up at the Paris Air Show? Because of all the cool displays with neat handouts. The technology is cool. The tchotchkes are cool. Watching technology in action is cool. The dinosaurs need to spend less time showing off for each other and more time showing off for the public. And helping to make sure that there is broad support for the investments in developing these technologies.

Something that I’d also like to see more of is reading about space. The internet’s fine and all, but nothing is as good as a book. One of my early, frustrated efforts was to have an author signing area as a means of attracting the local public. After all, who doesn’t want to have their copy of “PowerSat” signed by Ben Bova? That one was a big seller at the conference, as was “The Sam Gunn Omnibus”. What became the NSS Reading Space only took off after the renowned Marianne Dyson took over. She took the groundwork that I had clumsily laid and built it into what turned out to be a very successful function at the conference. Thank goodness, as absent corporate sponsorship we needed all the gravy we could get our hands on to make sure we at least break even. (501c3 not-for-profit and all that)

Personally I got ‘Welcome to Moonbase’, ‘Moonrise’, ‘Moonwar’, ‘Return to the Moon’, and the ‘Return to the Moon II’ conference proceedings signed. Mr. Schmitt was also kind enough to sign his forward to the ‘Lunar Sourcebook’ that I have in the Lunar Library.

I offered some time to the Apogee guys to sign ‘Kids to Space’, but it turns out they were down to their last four copies of the first print run. It’s going to a 2nd edition (Woo Hoo!), and I know Lonnie’s working hard on a curriculum guide so that it will be easier to get the book into classrooms. Apogee did get on the book signing bandwagon, and had Ted Spitzmiller, Dennis Wingo, the ATWG guys, and others sign their books. I hope this is something that will be continued at future ISDCs. Had the media informed the local public about what was going on, it probably would have been even more successful.

Speaking of ATWG, their conference went very well, and many of the members stuck around for the weekend to share the results of their work with ISDC attendees. This is a result of something that struck me as a good idea last summer when the Lunar Commerce Roundtable meeting in Las Vegas fed into the SFF’s New Space conference. Why not have a cluster of individual conferences, i.e. ATWG, SSI, LCR, LEAG, MEPAG, during the early part of the week, and then feed those results into the more general ISDC.

As with most of my ideas it was one frought with frustration and difficulty. But the ATWG guys seemed happy with the results (with some commenting to me about how glad they were that they had stuck around for the ISDC). The Space Venture Finance Forum was a full house, and most of those guys stuck around for a while as well. The SVF will, I think, be one of the strong results to come out of the conference. One gentleman commented that he felt that there might be a ‘branding’ of these finance forums. I indicated that the SVF might or might not happen in conjunction with the ISDC next year. It might be the Space Commerce Roundtable that Paul Eckart heads up. Or some other finance event. Just as one of ATWG’s meetings next year may or may not happen in conjunction with the ISDC.

Still, I do think that the overall idea has merit – that of having several smaller conferences just before the more generalist ISDC, into which the results are fed to develop a broader picture.

The one complaint that I think had merit was the lack of abundant coffee. Absent corporate underwriting, this was of course impossible for our pathetic budget. Folks need to realize that the ISDC is the most affordable space conference around. For the very economical registration fee we provided a HUGE, ENORMOUS, nay, BROBDINGNAGIAN amount of value. Besides the Big Room in the afternoon on Saturday we had 10 additional tracks. I’m a banker, I know what value is, and the ISDC is huge value for the money. Even without the coffee. For which it would have been nice to have had corporate underwriters.

There were still more adventures, like the uncomfortable question that came up during one of the afternoon Big Room sessions I was babysitting: “There sure are a lot of palefaces here…where is everyone else?” Coming up in the next installment…

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One Response to More ISDC Notes

  1. Ferris says:

    Ken,

    I didn’t get a chance to thank you at the conference, so I want to thank you now, for hosting such an awesome conference.

    Thank you for making my first ISDC so good

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