Monday, June 25, 2012

SETIcon

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My first trip to SETIcon was similar to my first Star Trek convention: one part predictable, two parts not what I expected at all, and about 12 parts way beyond expectations... overall, a pretty wild ride!

The first thing that surprised me was the sheer size of the crowd. SETIcon II (the second convention they have held) was well-attended, easily up in the thousands, and may need to explore larger venues in the future. The Santa Clara Convention Center was packed with space geeks, many from the native Silicon Valley, but some from as far away as New York. And a dedicated lot we are.

Actor Robert Picardo
Sweet Irony: Not a Trek Con, but the first celebrity I stumbled
over was Robert Picardo of Star Trek Voyager

In the wake of funding losses, it's good to see the Search For Extra Terrestrial Intelligence Institute's events so delightfully peopled in every age range. There was much to discuss, much to debate, and much to celebrate -- not cheaply, but the idea here is to raise money for the ongoing efforts in the greatest question for humankind: Are we alone in the cosmos?

It seems unlikely, and eminent scientists of all fields gathered to conduct lunches, brunches, slideshow panels, Q&A sessions and intimate interviews called "Fireside Chats", all to ponder the grander issues of our species. Where are the other populated planets? How do we find their signals? What are the signs of habitation? When life does arrive, is it inherently random in its development, or is intelligence always the end game? Just how unique are we?

Astronaut Tom Jones
NASA Astronaut Tom Jones, 4-time Space Shuttle Veteran

Some of the many sessions I chose to attend included:

"Will You Survive Your Trip To Mars" with NASA astronaut Tom Jones and Mars Institute founder Pascal Lee, among other ethicists and researchers.

"All Aboard the 100 Year Starship!" A new Earth effort by NASA Astronaut Mae Jemison, who was joined by Bill Nye The Science Guy!

"Did the Big Bang Require a Divine Spark?" with Nobel Prize Winner Alex Filippenko and other assorted Godless Heathens.

"Imagineering Science" with Chris Ford from PIXAR, and other film & visual arts folks who bring the universe to us colorfully and visually...

Fireside Chat with "Packing For Mars" author Mary Roach, who is just as funny in person as she is in writing!

Frank Drake
SETI founder Frank Drake at far left

Oh, and there was an exhibit hall with vendors, local artists specializing in space art, NASA Ames displays from the nearby agency center, the "Ask a Scientist" information table, a large silent auction of memorabilia and collectibles, time capsules compiled by famous scientists and in the evening, a BYOT ("Bring Your Own Telescope") Star Party where we noted an ISS pass... what luck!

The entire program of events can be found at the SETIcon II website, so definitely check it out and lament your absence if you didn't attend! It will definitely make you want to attend SETIcon III!

SETICON II
Nick, Karen, me, Erik & Jaime ... happy space geeks!

SETI had a vendor film each session, and they promised to make all the talks and events avaialble on their SETI Institute YouTube Channel, so look for those to be uploaded soon... in the meantime, my photos are in my Pillownaut Picasa Gallery, or click any of the above photos to see the high-resolution originals of the event.

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