Pioneering a Dangerous and Beautiful Frontier

by guest blogger Ken

I’m sure there are still a few folks waiting for the next installment in the Why Mars? series, with the next chapter to be entitled “So Many Reasons the Moon”. The delay is a result of the ISDC preparations kicking into high gear with the turn of the year. Our efforts are redoubled in rallying support of and participation in the conference, and with e-mails flying around, and meetings, and telecons, and road trips and so on I’m finding not a lot of time to sit down and do the topic of Lunar development the justice it deserves. So you’re just going to have to be patient.

So what is happening with the conference? The formal invites went out from HQ, and the replies are starting to roll back in. Neil Armstrong sent a very nice decline, which I expected (and everyone kept telling me, but I forced the issue and insisted on an invite). My only disappointment is that Mr. Armstrong is exactly the kind of ‘quiet hero’ that represents the best of the American spirit that we need to see much more of right now. (Not celebrity nonsense)

We’ve got a bunch of tentative and maybe yeses. I’ve been working over Paul Spudis with the blarney, so we should have him for the ‘Moon & Cislunar Space Development’ track. A couple of authors are on board (including Dr. Spudis and his wife Anne who wrote the fantastic ‘Moonwake’), so I’m pushing for a public area where authors can sign their books as a means of attracting more of the general public.

Because that’s the audience I’m interested in. I don’t want to have the same old space conference with the same old faces, but a place where people who have an interest can come to learn more about how important space is and why they should be supporting space efforts.

The structure is of course continually in flux, but generally we have three main tracks that will run from Fri to Sun:

-Frontier Transport – to space, through space, from space;
-Moon & Cislunar Space Development;
-The Martian Frontier.

These will be accompanied by an array of single and two-day tracks in smaller rooms. NASA JSC is lining up an ISS Science track on Friday for us, as an example. We will also have afternoon symposiums on a number of themes, such as Space Venture Finance, and Space Settlement. The more professionally oriented content is geared towards Thu and Fri, with general public oriented stuff on Fri, Sat & Sun. Depending on timing issues with the guests, I hope to have the Gala dinner Sun night at the Frontiers of Flight museum as the capstone of the conference after a big successful Space Settlement Symposium that afternoon. A boy can hope…

We’ve also got some awards to hand out, of course, and this year is the Von Braun Award. Some committee above my pay grade is taking care of that one. I’m also trying to contend for one of the, I think they’re pewter, Moon globes that they carefully parcel out each year to especially worthy recipients (again, above my pay grade). They’re well-rendered with recognizable features, and what Lunar Library would be complete without one on display on the shelf?

The Aerospace Technology Working Group (ATWG) will be holding a pre-ISDC conference earlier in the week, with their conclusions feeding into our conference. Their theme: “Earth Orbit Support for Earth & Outgoing Exploration”.

Oh, our theme? “From Old Frontiers to New”. We’re trying to capture the spirit that transformed the worthless barren scrub of Texas into a place of prosperity that leads in fields like technology and rocket stuff. One of the taglines we’ve been using in our flyers is ‘Wanted: Pioneers for New Frontiers’ using Phil Smith’s Space Cowboy image that Sam Dinkin at has been nice enough to let us use. I haven’t figured out a good use for the Lunar Boot Hill image. I’ve got the original in the Lunar Library, but Sam owns all of the digital and image use rights. It’s a pretty cool picture, with the iconography on the tombstones cutting a swath across human cultures.

It’s amazing the people that are getting in touch with us, and I don’t just mean the Space Solar Power Institute out of Georgia Tech. Director Alan Chan asked us about screening his film ‘Postcards from the Future’ during the conference. Having seen the DVD I can only say yes, yes, a thousand times yes I want to screen this movie. It’s good, and gets right to the core of why we are going into space. I’ve already got a review together for Out of the Cradle entitled ‘Postcards from a Dangerous and Beautiful Tomorrow’ (and from which the title for this post is derived), and I’m just waiting to get Alan’s okay on the text, because I don’t want to give away too much. (got it, ended up taking a bit out, but the review is up)

But to give you an idea of the complicated nature of the behind the scenes conference planning efforts, let’s look at screening a movie. It was ‘filmed’ in effectively ‘digital IMAX’ (4K is the term used, since lawyers love it when you misuse a trademark like IMAX), so of course an e-mail has to be sent to the local Cinemark guys, since they operate the only 3-D IMAX projector in the metroplex. However, IMAX films don’t do so well commercially despite a steady supply of school kids and families (and generally sea movies do better than space movies), so it’s unlikely Cinemark has upgraded equipment at the theatre (I haven’t heard back yet, so honestly don’t know). Other options? Frontiers of Flight has a small theatre which could work, but high-def it is not. Getting ultra-high-tech video equipment at the conference is not an inexpensive undertaking, and the ridiculously low registration prices don’t give us a whole lot of wiggle room. Maybe I should look up Mark Cuban…

And there are always frustrations and disappointments. Saturday I was supposed to try to hook up with the Dallas Personal Robotics Group about ‘affiliating’ with the conference, but it loooks like the winter storm made them cancel (as NSS-NT’s meeting was cancelled on Sunday). Affiliation basically means that the organization publicizes the event to its members and encourages them to register and attend. We (NSS) put the affiliate logo up on the website and mention them in the program book. Affiliate members get to register at NSS rates, and volunteers who work four hours get the rest of the day for free, or 16 hours for the whole conference free. Volunteers do have to register ahead of time, though, and will get rebates based on actual hours worked. (I’m a banker, remember. That’s why I wear the black hat and my co-chair Carol Johnson gets to wear the white hat) We’re already getting members of affiliate organizations who are going ahead and joining NSS to work directly on the project.

One of my personal projects for the volunteers is to get sufficient funding for them to each get a polo shirt. For ease of conference management I want to use a simple color scheme easily recognizable to attendees. I want the security guys in red logo polo shirts, the administrative staff in blue polos, and the executive decision makers whose word is final in gold polos. I’ll of course be in the big black cowboy hat (even though you’re really not supposed to be wearing them indoors). Since I’m a belt & braces (the button-on kind of suspenders) kinda banker I also get to worry about things like making sure that all of the volunteer corps gets fire drill training, knows where all of the emergency exits and fire extinguishers are, etc. I’ve actually got a floorplan of the hotel where I’ve mapped out exit routes.

Business development is tops on my agenda at the moment, which led to the meeting with the North Texas Regional Center for Innovation and Commercialization. (NTXRCIC), which is the local contact for the state’s Emerging Technology Fund (ETF). In a nutshell, Texans don’t trust their representatives down in Austin. They only get to formally meet every other year, and we try not to give them too much money to play with in their sandbox. They did manage to put together about $200Mn for the ETF as a means of attracting companies and researchers to Texas from higher tech industries. Texas is a great place to do business, but some folks need a bit more persuading than others, I guess. My main goal is to get a lot of space hardware to show off. So NTXRCIC is going to send info about the conference to their in-state network.

And then one gets out-of-the-blue e-mails, like one tonight letting NSS chapter leaders know about the publicity tour for ‘Astronaut Farmer’, which is coming to Dallas in early February. Luckily I’m too ugly to be on TV or in pictures, so I’ll probably pawn that one off on someone else, as I’d really like to be down at the 13th annual Space Exploration Educators Conference in Houston getting Moon rock certified. (Something we hope to do for educators at our conference in May), maybe meeting with some Society of Women Engineers ladies while I’m down there. (I so need to send them an e-mail…)

I almost wish there wasn’t so much going on in space right now. How am I supposed to encapsulate the entirety of it in a long weekend conference that the interested public can attend?

This is going to be a long five months (no wait, four and half…)

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4 Responses to Pioneering a Dangerous and Beautiful Frontier

  1. Kirk Sorensen says:

    Oh, it’s painful to see that my alma mater is supporting a “Space Solar Power Institute”. This is a bad idea that just won’t die. I used to write letters to my congressmen asking them to support SSP. Now I wouldn’t spend a dime on the idea.

    Admit it, we give SSP a free pass on a lot of engineering holes because we all want to see space developed and commercialized. But people, this isn’t it.

  2. Jeremiah K. says:

    I agree… we do all want to see space commercialized. Unfortunately, there has been a decline in the interest of space exploration among rising generations. Although there are arguably many things that we can do to help this, fundamentally, it is due to a lack of knowledge and propaganda. Back when the U.S. first set foot on the moon, there was so much advertising and marketing about the subject that it couldn’t help but spark interest. Now there is hardly anything.

    The Utah Space Association has started a petition to instantiate July 20th (the anniversary of the firts moon landing) as a Space Exploration Day holiday. I think this is a great idea to help spark the interest of Americans. You can sign the petition at I think it is a great cause and hope that it achieves its goal.

  3. murphydyne says:

    So Kirk, are we going to an abstract on what is it? Or are you just kvetching? Perhaps this is the beginnings of a public debate on “SSP: Tomorrow’s Solution or Yesterday’s Failure?” session. Think about it…

    We do “Moon Day” in July here in North Texas. Usually we have an event at FoF on or around the 20th.

    More yeses today. And more leads.

  4. Kirk Sorensen says:

    I’m probably just kvetching, Ken–my apologies.

    I wish I knew what “it” was…I really do. But I know it’s not SSP.

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