Monday, November 13, 2006

SEDS National Conference: results

Despite what the five-dollar quotation book sitting on your shelf might say, Horace Greeley wasn't actually the person who coined the phrase, "Go west, young man". That was the doing of one John Soule, a writer for an Indiana newspaper; Greeley simply came across it, plastered it in the New York Tribune, and helped set off a revolution. This makes the fact that Greeley was the one who made a lasting impact on the world no less important.

The speakers at SpaceVision 2006, held last weekend at the University of Central Florida, were the Horace Greeleys of the future. It would be a cute metaphorical extension to talk about how they talked about life in Independence, Missouri, told winding stories about trading clothes to Indians on the Snake River, and pointed off vaguely in the direction of Oregon.

The problem with that comparison is that too many of them had already been to Oregon.

Speaking to an aerospace-engineering-rich crowd (I can say with some certainty that of the 75-odd students there, I was the only social sciences major), these men and women talked about how they were laying the foundations for human space expansion, what being in zero-gravity would be like (from personal experience, sometimes), and why both the NASA-Boeing government-industrial complex and the private efforts ofr recent years would be essential. But most importantly, it was up to us.

Some of the people kind enough to bless us with their presence/lucky enough to be in Orlando on a certain Friday evening were:

-Peter Diamandis: The keynote speaker. Dr. Diamandis is the founder of the Ansari X-Prize, the contemporary equivalent of the Orteig Prize, which offered a $10,000,000 bounty to the first viable private spacecraft. (For those of you who have been living on a rock, Burt Rutan collected back in 2004). He's moved on to offering bigger prizes for more daunting tasks, starting up an honest-to-god Rocket Racing League, and giving off-the-cuff, two-hour keynote speeches at conferences to cynical-turned-wide-eyed college students. Looks like Joel Feiner.

Sam Coniglio: Founder of the Space Tourism Society, a ten-year-old organization dedicated to providing feasible and stylish ideas to entrepreneurs worldwide who are interested in space tourism. Also a great photographer. Looks like Joe Hachem.

Michael Hawes: Currently NASA's "Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Development", Dr. Hawes is essentially the go-to guy for NASA policy concerning human spaceflight. Gave a pretty good speech for someone who's been in the system for 26 years. It was made better, though, by the fact that he came up directly after a guy from Boeing, who was basically in charge of the Space Shuttle and clearly had a strong attachment. Dr. Hawes had to come up with several creatively gentle ways to firmly state the Shuttles would be put out of commission and sold in the next five years. Looks sort of like a bespectacled, larger Orson Scott Card Philip Seymour Hoffman. That's who I was thinking of.

Jeff Feige: Discussed (with one Krysta Paradis) the exciting (no, really) field of space entrepreneurship and the best ways to get out there and... entreprenue. He'd probably know, having been involved with entrepreneurship through several years and a few companies, most recently Orbital Outfitters. (With the soon-to-come boom in orbital travel, there has to be someone out there who can provide the best spacesuits at non-NASA costs; OO looks to cover that field.) Surprised me by, when I confided to him at dinner my total lack of scientific credentials, saying that he was actually a history major in college. Tells an astounding variety of funny, dirty jokes and looks like Steven Berlin Johnson.

George Tyson: Creator of the Orbital Commerce Project. As you may know, Virgin Galactic (the one Richard Branson owns) is going to start sending people into low earth orbit in 2009 or so for about $200,000 a pop. Problem is that there isn't any flight school right now for pilots who go 100 miles in the air. That's where George Tyson comes in. He's gotten FAA certification and is going to start offering classes for both pilots and payload specialists (read: flight attendants) in the next year. Heck, I wouldn't mind doing that. Doesn't look like anyone in particular.

And that doesn't include the ex-President of SEDS Canada with a plan for a multi-stage rocket to Mars, the crazy local guy who showed us how to make rocket propellant from sugar and fertilizer, and heck, pretty much everybody who spoke Friday before I arrived. We won't go into that story, but I now have a very intimate knowledge of the workings of the Orlando public busing system. Still ten times better than a cab.

It's weird how I react to space exploration--as a concept. I've always had a passion for it, but I think when I stopped my aspirations of double-majoring in Astronomy (thank you, soul-crushing UNC Physics Department! Why must you be in the same department as the awesome Astronomy professors?) any pursuit of a career down those paths, and some of my fervent interest, ended as well. So I kept up with the news, joined the Virgin Galactic listserv and all that, but just treated it as a part of my life in the same way I would, say, major league baseball. But then I do something like this and it all comes welling back up again. Good grief.

And I actually did talk with people about careers involving astronomy and linguistics, which is more plausible than you might think. I made a bunch of connections, played Frisbee on top of a parking garage at 11 at night, and definitely had a better time than my Di-Phi colleagues did on their recent foray down to Georgia.

I guess I should probably join SEDS now.


At 5:36 PM, Anonymous tami said...

Glad you a good time and made it home safefully. Cant wait to hear all about at Thanksgiving!

At 10:16 AM, Blogger F said...

pshaw. diphi had so much more fun. space is cool and all, but 11 debate nerds in one hotel can you get more entertaining that that?


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