Monday, June 02, 2008

Images and Commentary: ISDC 2008

Here are some rough impressions and pictures from this past weekend's International Space Development Conference (ISDC). I was insanely busy running around on various tasks, from selling calendars to attending meetings to "working the room" (an acquired, but necessary skill), and occasionally sitting in on sessions.

Friday, May 30

The first session I have notes--but no pictures--for was Congressman Nick Lampson (D-TX). He admitted some hard facts for the audience, including:

  • The political system responds quickly only to a crisis.

  • NASA is being asked to do more with less.

  • Research and development (R&D) and science are not "in vogue" at the moment.

  • The troubled economy causes people to question space investments.

  • Given the partisan environment between the Congress and the President, he doesn't hold out high hopes for NASA's budget this year. A continuing resolution is likely again.

  • China is producing ten times as many science graduates as we are.

  • Space, like everything else, has become a partisan issue.

However, Lampson is a space fan. "It's not always going to be about government. Space will grow our economy." He acknowledged that science and space exploration should be among the nation's top priorities going into the next presidential/congressional term. "It's all about inspiration," he said. It's about "challenging ourselves to do great things." He added that "We can't afford to put science on hold for five years." He encouraged National Space Society (NSS) members to "get to know your member of congress." He described a group of Congressmen called the "Center Aisle Caucus," which is a bipartisan group trying to reach across the aisle to get things done. Lampson sees space as one of those things. This Caucus sent a letter to the House leadership about space.

Lampson closed by saying that NASA contributes to the economy and our culture, and I think that's absolutely right. However, given the number of nations getting into unmanned space exploration, I'd say that human spaceflight is one of the "differentiators" of the American culture.

During the Q&A, Lampson explained that the partisanship on space came not within the space constituency, but more from competing budgetary priorities (e.g. veterans, housing, etc.).

He acknowledged, again, that it was going to get harder to get money for anything.

In response to a question about getting NASA, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy to cooperate on developing space solar power, he said that "Anything is possible." He urged NSS members to "use Congress to change things."


After the Lampson thing, I took to wandering the hallways. I must confess to leaving the session on the Constellation program because, quite frankly, I hear about that every day. I discovered that I hadn't brought my cell phone charger and happened to pester a friend with an iPhone. He looked up a Verizon store online using said, "See? That's why you need one of these things." No thanks. Nice to have the assist, though. This is the point where one of my pals would call me a "Luddite in techie's clothing." She's right, so why argue?

In the bar, I met a gentleman who was presenting on a rocket called Neptune. This puppy is a serious behemoth: 6,000 metric tons (about 13.8 million pounds). For comparison, the currently planned Ares V is slated to be 7.5 million pounds at liftoff, while the Saturn V was around 6.7 million pounds. About the only place the U.S. could launch such a beast would be on Baker Island in the middle of the Pacific. I told him good luck with selling that in the current environment. Yikes!


The next speech I managed to attend (again without having my camera handy--let's face it, dear readers: I'm not much better off when I have it) was for Simon "Pete" Worden, former USAF General and now Center Director for NASA's Ames Research Center. Worden is something of a legend in the space community and NASA itself, known as he is for bucking the bureaucracy and occasionally getting himself in trouble for it. Worden's talk focused on opportunities in the future.

Worden began by reminding the audience that space is no longer solely the province of the United States. He also stated that "leading in space means leading international efforts." He then went on to note some of the upcoming international efforts heading for the Moon, including China's, Japan's, and India's.

Worden isn't afraid or ashamed to use profanity in his talks. One of his more amusing lines, in describing the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission was, "As a former Air Force guy, I really like bombing the shit out of the Moon." He is also not above taking a few good-natured pokes at rival centers, like Marshall or Goddard, as when he noted the cost of some of his "micro-satellites" and other projects compared to "that Goddard shit." One of my friends asked him, "How do you manage to survive at NASA?" Worden explained that [NASA Administrator Michael] Griffin will occasionally call him on the carpet and demand, "What'd you ask that for?" Indeed, when Worden brings in a reference (unattributed) describing NASA as "a self-licking ice cream cone," one does indeed wonder. My coworkers and I are impressed with the amount of innovation and collaboration that goes on at Ames, especially in connection with Generation Y. Being in Silicon Valley, I suppose that entrepreneurial, looser environment is more likely to occur. "We're sort of the 'un-center'," he said at one point.

Other space opportunities Worden mentioned included the Google Lunar X Prize; the International Lunar Network, which is looking to rebuild the world's community of lunar scientists; launching very large (10-25 meters wide) telescopes to the L2 Lagrange Point; using Ares/Orion for human servicing of telescopes at that location; lower-energy exploration missions to asteroids, which he described as "slicker than snot"; using biotechnology to facilitate human exploration and exploitation of space resources; and in-situ resource utilization of volatiles in asteroids to support exploration. Anyhow, Worden made quite an impression, and was undoubtedly one of the more popular NASA speakers at the conference.


One of the "must-see" events for me at this ISDC was the debate (more of a moderated Q&A) between representatives of the threee major presidential campaigns: Clinton, McCain, and Obama. The discussion was facilitated by CNN correspondent Miles O'Brien, and it was quite obvious early on in the discussion that O'Brien and the Clinton representative (former NSS officer, NASA policy person, and "space mom" Lori Garver). The McCain representative, Floyd Deschamps, and Obama representative, Steve Robinson, were either not up on the topic or not apparently interested.

Opening statements:

Obama sees space policy as part of science policy, which is where the other two candidates (and most presidents after Kennedy and Johnson) put it. His efforts on space/science would focus on:

  • Building and supporting the pool of talented people capable of carrying science forward.

  • Inspiring America's youth (can I tell you how BORED I am with that phrase?)

  • Creating a supportive environment for R&D.

  • Applying science and engineering toward addressing Earth-based problems, most notably climate and energy issues. On the matter of climate, Obama would use space to support "evidence-based" decision making.

McCain's presidency would focus on fiscal responsibility (in my language, budget cuts). McCain would:

  • Appplying information from unmanned spacecraft (i.e. satellites, orbiters, landers) to human exploration activities.

  • Evaluating the best way to address the human spaceflight gap.

  • Establishing a balanced program of human/robotic exploration and addressing climate change monitoring via satellites.

Hillary Clinton, much as it pains me to say so, has the most clear, forward-thinking, and positive space agenda of the three (but then I was never a one-issue voter--and Hillary's got many other issues that are trouble-making without including space in the mix). Clinton's priorities include:

  • Promoting an ambitious space agenda, which sounds nice but was somewhat vague on the execution side. She did mention human and robotic exploration, though.

  • Promoting Earth science.

  • Promoting aeronautical research.

These points were included in a speech she delivered on October 4, 2007. Garver also pointed out that Clinton was one of the few Senators from a "non-space" state who signed on to the Mikulski-Hutchison bill to add $2 billion to NASA's budget to make up for losses due to Hurricane Katrina and other issues.

In the Q&A section, Deschamps and Robinson made it clear that science/R&D spending needed to increase; however, Robinson ducked the issue of Obama wishing to fund education initiatives by delaying the Constellation Program for five years.

Deschamps dodged a similar question about whether McCain would restore funding to Al Gore's Triana environmental monitoring program, but indicated that McCain would evaluate any gaps in environmental monitoring knowledge.

Robinson drew hisses from the audience when he said that "We've been on Mars for four days," when in fact the U.S. has had probes on Mars since 1977. He compounded his error by repeating the comment later. He stated that it would be more inspiring to students to have a probe on Mars that the could interact with. "We shouldn't say inspiration comes in just one form." I believe Miles O'Brien retorted that "We've never named a high school after a robot." In any case, the crowd got the distinct vibe that human spaceflight was not high on Obama's list of space activities to pursue.

Asked what their top priority for NASA would be, the camps answered as follows:

  • Clinton: "Exploration (human and robotic)." Possibly increase NASA's budget, but shift more money toward robotic exploration and Earth science (which might end up being a wash, as far as Constellation is concerned).

  • McCain: Science and climate change.

  • Obama: The decisions will be made by the space community (in other words, he punted).

Asked about privatizing operations in space, Lori Garver stated that that approach was right for operations in low Earth orbit (LEO), but "the devil's in the details," whatever the hell that means. Asked if NASA was a good midwife for business, Garver said, diplomatically, "They're still learning."

McCain wanted to focus on return on investment to the taxpayers and privatizing the International Space Station via private-sector research activities. He added that "prizes were a good thing."

On the issue of military space, Robinson had a clear set of talking points, which boiled down to: "We don't need new battlegrounds" and "We need to find ways to foster cooperation." A follow-up question caused him to repeat these points.

Deschamps indicated the need for the U.S. to protect its space assets, but also added that McCain was not looking for a new battleground.

Garver reitered the policy of keeping military and civilian space activities separate, though she noted that cooperation with the Chinese would be difficult since they did not do so.

On the subject of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which has been causing the U.S. to lose its competitive edge through excessive export control laws, Garver said Clinton wanted to fix ITAR. One such reform might include moving some items on the ITAR list from the control of the State Department to the Department of Commerce. McCain's camp would review the situation (though I'm baffled as to what yet another review would do to help--we've known about the problem for at least 8 years). Deschamps reminded the audience that "technology is always ahead of the law," but then committed McCain to trying to have the law keep up with it anyway. Robinson answered truthfully, if painfully, "I have nothing to add."

Asked if space is a priority, the answers generally went like this:

  • Clinton: Having the presdient make a declaration is not enough. An announcement of a mission needs to be backed by funding and policies.

  • McCain: [Not in my notes--I bought a DVD of the session, so I will review later and revise].

  • Obama: "We cannot tell kids to 'go be scientists' if they can't go to schools where they can become them."

My overall assessment:

  • There seemed to be very little difference between the candidates.

  • Space won't be a priority to the President until there's a crisis.

  • NASA's budget is unlikely to increase, but basic science/R&D funding will, possibly via the National Science Foundation.

  • Human spaceflight will muddle along based on whatever budget it can eke out.

  • Robotic exploration and Earth science (i.e. climate change) will be the priorities of all three candidates when they finally get around to addressing space issues.

I'll take a shot at explaining the pictures below later. I didn't get much sleep last night, and sleeping on an airplane doesn't quite cut it, though I did make a valiant attempt. I think I need one of those neck pillows.

More later.


The first event I have photos for was the Friday evening gala, where the NSS was presenting the Robert A. Heinlein Award to Burt Rutan, builder of SpaceShipOne and the forthcoming SpaceShipTwo. The Master of Ceremonies (MC or "emcee" in Americanish) was CNN's Miles O'Brien. He was followed by former 20/20 anchor and NSS Governor Hugh Downs, who shared some remiscences of his childhood (including his less-than-six-degrees-of-separation connection to astronaut Neil Armstrong) and focused on how and why the way we record and present the space exploration events of the present will have an effect on the future.

Hugh (I feel I can call him by his first name here--I actually talked with the man during the 2005 ISDC) was followed by Fred Ordway III, an eminent NASA rocket guy and author who served as a consultant on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ordway gave a tribute to the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

Finally, O'Brien introduced and gave the Heinlein Award to Mr. Rutan. Perhaps I should share some of the blame for what happened next. Earlier that afternoon, Rutan had stopped by the NSS booth, where Dan Linehan was selling his new book on SpaceShipOne (more on that later). Rutan hadn't decided what he was going to say that night, so I jokingly asked him if he was going to repeat his 2006 appearance, where he appeared in "the capacity of a humorist." That was the performance where he'd taken the time to pick on every single program represented in the room. He indicated that he was offended and more than a little upset with the speech that Neil deGrasse Tyson had delivered the night before. He took umbrage with the notion that Apollo/Saturn had nothing to do with being visionary and were all about "war." He stated that Buzz Aldrin was similarly uncomfortable and angry with Tyson's remarks and at one point said, "Okay, I'll hold his arms, you punch him."

Rutan then began repeating his 2006 performance, starting out by saying that he only came here (Washington) under duress, and strongly urged that NSS hold its conventions "anywhere but here." He explained that he was "depressed in the presence of regulators" because "the folks here tell us what we cannot do...and I spend a lot of my time telling my people that they can do anything. There's no limits on what you can do if you believe you can do it."

He moved on to discuss the difference between research and development. He described Apollo as research: "You're only doing research when more than half the people you're working with think what you're doing is impossible." He stated that the Constellation Program amounted to development work. "We are averse to doing research." He predicted that the current operational model, where NASA designs and the contractors build would fail. That came as a surprise to me, since I just helped Steve Cook write a speech about the fact that the NASA-leads-contractors-follow model derives directly from the Apollo model he claims to admire.

Another good pull quote: "Our best visionaries couldn't predict what we could do if we're challenged." When Rutan is on a roll, there are few forces on Earth that can stand in his way.

Rutan then set off a landmine, and kept setting them off for the next 30+ minutes: he dared to question, in the midst of a rather liberal capital society, the orthodoxy of global warming: "This will prove to be the biggest sham in history." And he went on from there.

Imagine yourself at a family reunion with other non-family guests present. A grandfather or uncle whom you deeply admire, love, and respect gets ripped and suddenly goes off on a tear about some political topic using none-too-polite language while doing so. Say he says that X group or Y profession is destroying the country, and whoever believes X or Y group was a g-damned idjit. You might happen to agree with your grandfather or uncle, but you know that many of your guests do not, and that your grandfather is, in fact, coarsely insulting some deeply held beliefs of said guests or the guests themselves (an example being one of his comments about the media: "I'm am so relieved that you are now irrelevant"). What do you do? You get embarrassed, and hope to hell he shuts up soon. That's sort of what listening to Rutan was like, but he did it all stone sober.

Here's the thing: Rutan is The Man in this business right now. He can write his own ticket. He designs aircraft like nobody else on this Earth, and he did what others said was impossible: build a new vehicle capable of reaching space for around $30 million. He is now building a bigger version to carry passengers, something that means access to space for anyone healthy and wealthy enough to pay. He also recently recovered from heart surgery. He lives in an area (Mojave, CA) and profession where competence is admired above all, and he's made great contributions demonstrating said competence. His work is proceeding without government payment or favor. Does he perhaps feel that he can say anything he damn well pleases? Most likely. Does that mean he should? I leave that to the discriminating reader. As an observer who is both a personal admirer and someone who agreed with much of what he said, I still found his behavior and performance boorish and unnecessarily rude. It's not like he's going to listen to me, but he should have enough "situational awareness" to realize that he did himself no favors with that speech, and might in fact have cost himself a fair amount of goodwill.

Suffice to say, Rutan is better off in Mojave, as he bloody well knows. If you wish to advance by accomplishing something in the physical world, you're better off outside the Beltway. If you want to succeed by winning friends and influencing people, you're better off in Washington.

Saturday, May 31
On Saturday, I paid a brief visit to the Near Earth Object (NEO) track, which was not exactly presenting to a full room. A couple of items I did pick up from the talk:

  • The number of NEOs found larger than 1 kilometer (km) across is leveling off, while the number of NEOs <1km>

  • NEOs are an international issue, which requires trust and serious diplomatic effort.

  • The risk line of where the Apophis asteroid could strike is long, running from Siberia to the mid-Pacific to Venezuela to the west coast of Africa. That's a hell of a margin of error!

  • There is a 600-meter-wide gravity-induced "keyhole" for Apophis. If it flies near Earth within this 600 m range in 2019, it will likely strike Earth in 2036. Yow!

  • Potential asteroid deflection technologies include direct kinetic impact, attaching thrusters, moving the asteroid via space/gravity tugs, and "standoff nukes."

  • Stopping km-sized objects is currently beyond our abilities. Food for thought.


The next session was on space tourism investing. Speakers for the session included Brett Alexander from the Personal Spaceflight Federation, Carissa Christensen from the Tauri Group, and Andrew Nelson from XCOR Aerospace. Ms. Christensen spoke first.

The Tauri Group did a two-year study on investment indicators within the personal spaceflight (PSF) industry. She described the types of investments as happening in three types:

  1. PSF services (the act of actually putting people in space).

  2. PSF-related hardware (e.g. rockets, which might be used for other applications).

  3. Non-PSF-related revenue (e.g. advertising).

Total investments in all services amounted to $175 million in 2006, $268 million in 2007. Overall employment in personal spaceflight was 1,227 people. Total investment committed to personal spaceflight is $1.2 billion, with ~25% of that spent so far.

Christensen described PSF as being in an "investment and development" phase. I later asked her if she (or anyone else) had done any comparisons between PSF investments and historical investments in commercial aviation at a similar phase of development. She said no, but indicated that market demand and World War II had a greater influence in commercial aviation's development than investment alone.

Mr. Nelson, who was soon to start as Chief Operating OFficer of XCOR, described PSF as "an interesting marketplace." He described his primary customers as thrill-seekers or consumers of adventure tourism. He wants to give them an experience that makes people say, "Holy crap, I wanna get back on," sort of like roller coaster enthusiasts.

Like Ms. Christensen, Mr. Nelson stressed the importance of market demand: "If you don't have a good market, then a good team and good technology won't help you." He stated that demand for PSF needs to be in the hundreds or thousands of flights per year to become a serious enterprise.

Nelson also stressed business basics, like personal assets, capital, and cashflow: "Cashflow is more important than your mother."


Saturday's lunch speaker was Anousheh Ansari, the third person to visit the International Space Station as a paying tourist. (If you're a tracker of such things, she was also the first woman and the first Iranian-American.) She was introduced by my buddy (and coauthor) Loretta Whitesides.

Ms. Ansari's first comment did not fill me with a great deal of optimism: "I want to talk about hope." A few comments later, she said, "They [the children of the world/nation] can be the change they want," more or less confirming for me that she's an Obama supporter. However, unlike Mr. Rutan, Ansari did not delve too deeply into the political. She said some good, if cliched things that won applause:

"Impossible is possible."

  • "Space is open for business."
  • "[Space] represents hope."
  • "[Space] is the ultimate way to think outside the box."
  • "Let's create a generation of dreamers."
  • "I think spaceflight should be mandatory for heads of state."

She concluded her talk with the following poem/saying from Karen Ravn:

Only as high as I reach can I grow
Only as far as I seek can I go
Only as deep as I look can I see
Only as much as I dream can I be

I guess I'm getting cynical in my old age, but it takes a little more than poetry to move me. That said, I still appreciated the sentiments. While I envy her success and her trip to ISS, I don't look at Ms. Ansari as some sort of visionary, like Rutan or Bob Zubrin. She's a consumer of space tourism services, as I one day hope to be. Still, Homer Hickam is currently writing up Ansari's biography, and that story might be worth reading. After all, how does one transition from a 16-year-old Iranian exile to a multi-millionaire and space fan? That would be a tale worth knowing.


For reasons that elude me (but far be it for me to complain about them), I bought a ticket for a movie being screened at ISDC, The Wonder of it All. Boy, and am I glad I did! At a shade over 82 minutes, Wonder manages to capture biographies of some of the men who walked on the Moon, which the American public probably hasn't seen in ~40 years. The movie is like an extended sidebar of In the Shadow of the Moon, another recent Apollo documentary I enjoyed, dealing as it does with the astronauts' personal lives. The ones being interviewed included Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Charlie Duke, Ed Mitchell, and John Young.

What comes across fairly quickly is how extraordinary these men were, either through their intelligence or eloquence, or both. Gene Cernan, for example, was on track to become a combat pilot in Vietnam before he became an astronaut. Most of the men were combat or test pilots, a profession with a 75% survival rate. Most of them are Silent Generation folks--low-key, humble, stoic. Buzz Aldrin discusses his mother's suicide a year before the landing of Apollo 11, as well as his own bouts with alcoholism, almost stoically. These men are much as they were when introduced to the public in the 1960s: soft-spoken, no-BS kinds of guys who would rather talk about (or better, just fly) spacecraft than become subjects of history. And yet they are. One wonders what would have become of them had they not all become astronauts.

Here's one of my favorite lines from Al Bean, the astronaut who became quite an accomplished artist after his journeys to the Moon: "If you've got a song in your heart, you'd better sing it." This was his big "lesson learned" from his adventures. He seemed to be saying, "If you don't share what talents you have in this life, no one will ever know about them." While my pastor probably wouldn't approve, I understood the sentiment.


Saturday was also the date for the Space Shuttle Discovery launch. A good chunk of the ISDC crowd turned out in "the big room" to watch the launch on the TV. And ya know, I like to think of myself as this hardbitten cynic who's had enough of the shuttle and all of its little crises--it bugs me to no end that every Shuttle flight has become a nail-biter thanks to that stupid foam. But damn, put me in a room full of fellow enthusiasts cheering the liftoff at the correct places (liftoff, separation, MECO), and all the old feelings come back: humility, patriotism, pride.

Just after the launch, the next track/session was announced, and it was all about Generation Y. Interestingly, despite the fact that the session was designed to help over-40s understand and work better with Gen Y, most folks over 40 left the room. Hell, most people over 30 left the room! Not exactly the best way to keep a conversation going.

The session was hosted by my buddy Loretta Whitesides, who began with a talk of her own. She stated that the goals of an inter-generational dialogue should be:
  • Bringing in more young people.
  • Mentoring more young people.
  • Finding ways for Gen Y to contribute its unique skill set.

Loretta, perhaps because she's an Xer like me, made some good conciliatory gestures to the previous (Boomer) generation, including a note that "We are standing on the shoulders of giants." She also was more constructive than the "gimme gimme" attitude of some Gen Y folks, by stating the need to "ask not what the space program can do for us, but what we can do for our space program." Unfortunately, the next speaker (Rivers Lamb, I believe) was not on the same track.

Using an advanced version of a PowerPoint presentation the Gen Y set has given in other NASA venues, Lamb did his level best to characterize Gen Y as willing to serve, but then ended up contradicting a great deal of that by emphasizing what NASA needed to do to cater to them. He provided a bunch of different words to describe Gen Y (parenthetical remarks are my own):

  • Confident
  • Ambitious
  • Expecting (to be entitled?)
  • "Famous" (a la the Internet, Facebook, etc.)
  • Open (to the point of TMI)
  • Direct
  • Empowered
  • Wired
  • Global
  • Mobile
  • Independent (except when living at home with Mom and Dad into their 30s)
  • Information-rich
  • Multitasking (short attention span)
  • Associative
  • Instantaneous (I want my data/promotion now)
  • Always "on" (inability to disconnect from electronic toys, helpless in a blackout)
  • Impatient--occasionally unrealistically so
  • Diverse

As far as the abilities of Gen Y go, Lamb had these to offer:

  • Able to absorb discontinuous information and analyze it.
  • Can see global view
  • Want to change the world
  • Used to complex information
  • Engaged, productive
  • Creative communicators

Lamb described failure for Gen Y in the following terms:

  • Not pursuing opportunity
  • Not trying
  • Not being true to oneself
  • Not getting dream
  • Compromising integrity

Additional Gen Y behavioral traits included:

  • Need to feel valued
  • Follow leaders based on credibility, not authority (this is also a Gen X trait)
  • Failure is an option (and if failure happens, one can always go back and live with Mom and Dad, right?)
  • Openly talk about career paths, options, and salaries (this is such a no-no in my world, that I hesitate to even explain it, but I will in case a Gen Yer is reading: You don't tell your boss that you're looking for another job, unless said job is in the same line of work you're in now. If you're an undertaker and you tell the boss you want to be an underwater basket weaver, said boss might not discourage you, but s/he might stop giving you any useful assignments in the job you're in now, under the assumption that you're gonna leave soon. I love the earnestness and niceness of Gen Y, but their political naiveity is startling.)

As advice to Gen Y, Lamb provided the following:

  • Seek out mentors
  • Turn boredom into positive contributions
  • Strive to understand the system (this is a good one, and a bit of advice that is often overlooked)
  • Share success
  • This one I add from my own experience and from having to lead Gen Y workers: take time to listen to your elders' "war stories." You might want an answer, NOW, quick and dirty. However, you can miss a lot of the nuance, situational awareness, and "why" that comes with experience if you ask for only the quick-and-dirty answer. You can ask for a quick answer, but if the boss starts giving you a long answer anyway, sit there and listen because there's reason why you're getting the long version.

As far as advice for non-Gen Y bosses, Lamb offered the following:

  • Be direct, not abstract, in your feedback.
  • Allow for a collaborative environment (i.e., one that gives Gen Y a voice in the decision-making).
  • Allow learning by doing.
  • Emphasize skill development, not loyalty. (I hate to break it to Gen Y, but loyalty still counts for something. A lot of large organizations are nearly feudal in their expectation of loyalty up and down the chain of command. Demonstrate that you're willing to follow the boss's program, and s/he is more likely to back you up when you come in seeking that promotion or transfer you're wanting.)

The next person I have notes about is my pal Cassie Kloberdanz, whom I wrote a paper with for last year's Mars Society Convention. Cassie gave more of a first-person narrative of her experiences as a Gen Yer within NASA. She makes clear that she had different experiences at different centers: good at Marshall Space Flight Center, not so good at Kennedy Space Center.

What differentiated a good from a bad experience for Cassie were the following traits:
  • Earning responsibility.
  • Leadership that had interest in her goals.
  • Coaching and communicating.
  • Excitement, training.
  • A culture of inclusion.

In short, Cassie thrived best in environments where the management showed interest in her and her personal goals and aspirations. I think it's safe to say that most people would thrive in such organizations. However, Gen Y has some unrealistic aspirations if they expect all managers to cater to their needs in this fashion. Many bosses have their own careers to worry about, as well as their bosses' goals. And that means any Gen Y worker must understand that in order to advance their own careers, they might occasionally have to set aside their own, personal goals to serve the goals of the organization or people for which they work.

Unfortunately, I had to go to an NSS Policy Committee meeting, and so was unable to participate in the Q&A afterwards. That might have proven interesting.


The dinner Saturday night was supposed to have Buzz Aldrin as the guest speaker. However, at the last minute Buzz had to bow out because he wasn't feeling well. And jeez, who can blame him? He'd spent something like three weeks on the road prior to ISDC, and he's 78 years old! The man's entitled to a break now and then.

As a substitute speaker, NSS brought in Lt. Col. Michael "Coyote" Smith, USAF.

Lt. Col. Smith was responsible, along with a group within the Department of Defense called the "Caballeros," for developing a collaborative, online discussion and report about space-based solar power. The report got some traction because DoD, as one of the largest purchasers of petroleum products in the world, is interested in reducing its fuel costs as much as (or more than) the American consumer.

"Coyote," along with his pals "Lips" and "Green Hornet" ("Horny," if truth be told) met in a variety of Irish pubs around the DC area to develop the SBSP idea, as they had little support from within DoD. The Caballeros did something unique, as they opened up their discussions to select members of the general public, seeking guidance and input, as "this is too important to the U.S., our allies, and the world."

I found the forward thinking of the Caballeros--more formally, the National Security Space Office--refreshing and much less militaristic than some of my more paranoid space advocacy peers might have expected. For example, Smith was eager to promote the following up front:
  • Prevention of an energy/resource war in the future
  • Freedom from war
  • Real wealth creation
  • Economic security

Coyote pointed out that low-cost SBSP being developed and used in the industrialized world would reduce the cost of more traditional (i.e. petroleum-based) resources for the rest of the world. He did admit that "the business case is not there yet," but felt the matter was "too important to the U.S., our allies, and the world" (he repeated the phrase, lest we miss the point) to ignore.

The Caballeros received one of NSS's Space Pioneer Awards in recognition of their efforts to change the conversation about SBSP. I myself won an Award for Excellence for my efforts in supporting the Society for the past year (no pictures as of yet). However, I decided that a future goal of mine would be to do something minor like "change the world." I want one of those pewter globes, dammit!

Sunday, June 1
The last speech I attended in full was presented by Lori Garver, space policy advisor for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and former NASA policy person, and Executive Director of NSS.

Ms. Garver almost became the first female space tourist ahead of Anousheh Ansari, but the funding/sponsorships fell through. She said a couple of curious things during her talk. One of them was that she was a former Republican who subsequently switched camps (she supported Kerry in 2004, Clinton in 2008). She stated that Sean O'Keefe didn't want Democrats supporting the Vision for Space Exploration, which makes no damned sense, given how hard it is to sell space as it is.

When asked what NASA should be doing in 20 years, she suggested the following priorities:
  • Focusing on new technologies.
  • Conducting science.
  • Investing in things that do not produce a commercial return on investment.

She admitted that NASA probably could/should do more about SBSP and seemed enthusiastic about the idea of building solar cells out of the lunar regolith. She also indicated that NASA was in danger of losing its budget unless it tied its activities to more Earth-based concerns (i.e. energy, the environment), but stated that there was still bipartisan support for Constellation. The big argument with Constellation? "It's not the architecture, it's the rationale." Sounds like the mother of all mixed messages, if you ask me.

In any case, Ms. Garver wished us well, thanked us for our efforts, and encouraged us to continue advocating with our elected officials about space issues.


When I wasn't buzzing around meetings or meal speeches, I was in the exhibitors' room. The following images are from there.

The item on the table is a mockup of a solar power satellite built by the Moon Society.

Constellation had a presence in the room, albeit in model and video kiosk form only. You can tell I've been in this business too long when I start griping about the fact that the model is not the right Ares I configuration.

Case in point: the shape of the Orion Launch Abort System has since changed to a more aerodynmic shape to cover the entire crew module.

Other items of interest in the Exhibitors room included a display for the Space Elevator Centennial Challenge, which is sponsored by the Spaceward Foundation. The climber competition is much more ambitious than previous events: elevator climber vehicles must now climb one kilometer. The 3/8-inch cable will be suspended from an aerostat (tethered blimp).

Other displays in the room included Apogee Books and David Robinson, a space artist who helped judge the 2009 Space Settlement Calendar Art Contest I ran this year.

And, lastly, we have Your Humble Narrator, relatively at ease at the Calendar sales booth. Thanks for reading.

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