And the surveys say…

the 2007 ISDC was a pretty good conference.

by guest blogger Ken

The survey results have been compiled by one of our volunteers, and with an approximately 3.3% response rate amongst attendees, the feedback was as follows:

Overall the conference was pretty evenly split between good and excellent. The Kids Program got top marks, and a request for us to do it at future ISDCs. Unfortunately, our point person for that is moving to Arizona. Aaargh. Something else to rebuid.

The only Poor we really had control over was for the Art Show, but from one of the strictest graders. There were a fair number of Averages in the track programs and even one in the Speakers column. The real meat is in the comments. Some of my favorite points:

Features enjoyed most-
-NEO/B612 talk
-Children’s Program
-Small groups allowed for personal interaction with speakers
-Wide variety of tracks
-Gala & exhibits
-Better display arrangements with handouts [woo-hoo!]
-New space ventures
-Space Venture Finance Forum
-author book signings, evening movies, vendors
-Paul Spudis
-Speakers [a number of times]

Features least enjoyed-
-Way too many afternoon tracks
-All tracks in afternoon, none in morning
-VIPs should spread out at meals
-Meal food
-Too few parties
-No daily coffee stations
-Cold rooms [a higher turnout was anticipated]
-Location of hotel (in the middle of a very boring area of Dallas)

I have to laugh at the last one, because Addison is where Dallas comes to party, and Restaurant Row one block away has over 100 restaurants and bars. The initial recommendation was an airport hotel that Really had nothing around it. The closest fast food was over half a mile away.

Other comments:
-Location was appropriate for senators and oil barons, not very suitable for us peasants [I predict that this ISDC was the last time hotel room rates were <$100]
-Very good effort and helpful volunteers
-Great conference. I hope NSS-NT holds it again
-I felt it was one of the best organized conferences I’ve been to in the past 5 years and I appreciate how helpful the workers were. They did a wonderful job!

And that, I think, pretty much sums it up. I’m pretty happy with the way the conference turned out (except for the worthless local media).

Otherwise I’ve just been laying low, catching up on some reading, and took a long weekend down to Austin (also known as Paradise on Earth). I love Austin, and it has been interesting watching how it changes over the years (I left during a very, very dark time in my life to go get my act together in upstate NY and have been wandering ever since, as befits an AF brat). Driving was an absolute pleasure, and I think Lamar Blvd. is my favorite street. There was none of the aggressiveness so characteristic of Dallas drivers. I can also feel a lot of good karma in that town. It’s just a spiritual pleasure being there.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of work on the Lunar Library, primarily in catching up on the reviews of Moon stories that I’m working on as part of a larger project. The pile of unread fiction books is now smaller than the pile of reviewed stuff. I’m rapidly approaching 150 stories reviewed, and the traffic has been picking up of late.

I started the project back in January of ’06, and by the end of the year about 12,000 visits had been made to the thread, or about 33 a day on average. Coming into 2007 the traffic started picking up , and I was consistently getting over 85 visits per day, with the average at times approaching 100 during surges. Since the ISDC, the traffic has picked up yet again, and it’s getting closer to 200 visits per day to the thread.

Then again, I don’t know to what extent there’s double-counting. The phpbb forum doesn’t show up on the Google Analytics of the site, so I can’t gauge how the counter deals with movement between the pages. Google Analytics does show traffic through the Lunar Library, and I’m always amazed at what people are looking for. It’s also interesting that a consistent 75% of traffic is shown as new visitors, though I imagine that cookie rules have a lot to do with that.

I was very pleased to find a copy of Arthur Clarke’s “The Exploration of the Moon” while I was down in Austin. This copy has a jacket in really good condition (the protective plastic certainly helps), and even has the original $2.50 price tag on the inside leaf. It’s 45 sections, each with a short description, from “Assembling Satellite Rocket” to “The Price….” with a short description on one page, and then a really nice B&W illustration by R.A. Smith on the facing page. The one for “The Spacesuit” is priceless for its manliness. The book details a step-by-step process for establishing a presence on the Lunar surface on the road to points beyond. I may have to write this one up for The Space Review. Since I had a coupon I got this one for a really good price.

Speaking of Moon-book arbitrage, I had to laugh when I saw the Amazon link for John Lewis’ “The Resources of Near-Earth Space”, which shows a best price of $1,446 [Update – Wow, it looks like it sold!]. Quite a bit more than what I paid for mine. A few of the really good titles are creeping up in price, like the “Lunar Sourcebook”. Maybe there’s a niche to be had as a broker of fine Moon and space-resource books.

In other business-related news, I noted the AP puff-piece about NASA wanting to make research space available on the ISS fee-free. The New Scientist Space article reflects a little bit of old-fashioned journalism and more cogent analysis. My general take is that NASA is trying once again to show how they’re providing value, and I do applaud the agreement with the NIH. In my heart I support the effort, as I once wanted to be a lessor of previously-flown MDL and SDR equipment for use in on-orbit research. But as a businessperson I can see where it makes no sense for a company to put any capital into pursuing this opportunity.

Fundamentally, it boils down to transport. Not just getting the experiments to orbit, but also the researchers. I don’t think that NASA is pushing hard enough for alternative U.S. transport to the station (i.e. non-National Space Transportation System),and they’ve already set a limit of 12 dockings per year at ISS. If you’re having to use Soyouzes, that’s not a lot of seat-availability for researchers, especially if the Russians are selling seats commercially. This opens up the possibility of a bidding war for the available Soyuz seats, a scenario that Sam Dinkin is probably better able to speak to than I.

So what if we do get transportation? Again, with limited dockings that means that the alt.access U.S. transport is competing with Russian tourist flights for berthing slots. Something tells me that to some extent the Russians would be dictating terms under their MOUs.

But then again, what is Bigelow offering? How are researchers supposed to get to Bigelow facilities? Word on the street is that LockMart may be working on a little something-something for him, but if so why isn’t NASA looking at it? The easiest deduction is that NASA is concerned about any ‘real’ competition to their National Space Transportation System,and therefore is trying to stifle it.

What I would like to see is LockMart work with their ULA companions Boeing on a non-NASA orbital vehicle. Between the two of them they should have sufficient know-how, and if done right could probably even be financed through Boeing Finance Corp.

Having such a vehicle would not, in my opinion, act as a disincentive to other potential transport providers in the same way that NASA’s stranglehold on the crewed launch market is a strong disincentive. Rather it would show that American industry is capable of creating a new space market outside of NASA. One that no one else in the world can match. A company or foreign government could finance an orbital vehicle as they would an aircraft, and finance the orbital facility the way they would a commercial building. That’s the kind of thing that brings a tear to this investment banker’s eye.

Solving the transport to orbit issue effectively unlocks the orbital micro-g research opportunities. The issue with micro-g research has never been that there wasn’t enough money for it (okay, maybe a bit in some cases). The issue is, and has always been, access to the environment where the research needs to be conducted. This is what led to the effectively push-button mid-deck lockers and Spacelab drawer racks. Folks on Earth don’t conduct research that way, they have scientists at lab benches running and tweaking experiments. Which I gather is the opportunity Mr. Bigelow is trying to open for us in orbit. Will BoeLockMart spring a surprise on us with an All-American capsule that wins the America’s Space Prize? Will SpaceX be the one that grabs the market? Will Kistler clear the hurdle of that last 15% to completion? Will Armadillo’s modular approach, funded by extreme high divers, be the solution that gets there first? And what is Blue Origin up to anyway?

Interesting times indeed.

P.S. Jon, if you’re reading this why aren’t you working on your thesis? 😉

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2 Responses to And the surveys say…

  1. Jon Goff says:

    P.S. Jon, if you’re reading this why aren’t you working on your thesis? 😉

    D’oh! I’ve been caught. Ok, ok, I’ll get back to work…


  2. Sam says:

    The Soyuz’s are sold out, not the docking slots. There can be a bidding war on already sold units because Russia leads Bolivia and Venezuela in breaching contracts below the spot market.

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