Saturday, May 25, 2013

SpaceFest V


SpaceFest V is in full swing!  I cannot believe this is the 5th SpaceFest, and I am just now getting on board.  To be fair, it's probably the most expensive space conference in the industry for astronauts, scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts... and it took a week of road-tripping just to reach the Tucson, AZ resort where it's being held.

Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean
Alan Bean, Apollo 12 & Skylab III
Fourth Man to Step on The Moon
(Sneaky Photograph by Tom McCool)

Holding a pretty nifty behind-the-scenes universal badge, we got in early to meet the astronauts as they were setting up, and it was a dream come true to meet Alan Bean, both an extraordinary astronaut and stunning painter!  I wish I could afford his art!  Alas, I had to settle for a handshake, a few minutes of jovial conversation, and a few precious photographs.

Armed with a PACKED schedule, I ran from room to room, enjoying lectures by Dr. Marc Rayman (JPL), a fellow Trekkie who detailed the unique ion-propulsion Dawn mission, which orbited the asteroid Vesta, and will soon reach our solar system's largest-asteroid-slash-dwarf-planet Ceres.

Following his talked was Dr. Leslie Young of the New Horizons mission, another fine NASA project which is pioneering new territory, and will soon take the clearest-ever pictures of Pluto and its 5 moons!  Mark your calendars -- NH reaches Pluto on July 14, 2015 at precisely 11:50am UTC!  Seriously.

Astronaut Dick Gordon
Richard Gordon, Gemini 11 & Apollo 12

I joined some Russian children and a delightful couple from Buffalo, NY in the banquet room, where we enjoyed lunch over lively conversation with Apollo 12 Command Module Pilot Richard Gordon.  He kept us in stitches the whole hour, which seemed to fly right by!

Each table held at least one astronaut... from every era!  Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle veterans were all on hand, enjoying pizza, pasta, and lovely chocolate desserts... and... I'm pretty sure the topic of space may have come up at a few tables. ;)

astronaut Jack Lousma
Jack Lousma, Skylab III & STS-3 Shuttle Columbia

The best lecture of the day was by Mission Control Houston's Apollo-era EECOM, Sy Liebergot... a legend in the MCC arena who gave a no-nonsense description of the Apollo 13 disaster -- and an even less-nonsense opinion about what he thinks of the state of NASA's plans and budget these days!  (Let's just say we heartily agree.)

I made one last trip into the astronauts' room, to see if the lines had cleared, and it was my absolute pleasure to meet one of my childhood heroes, Astronaut Jack Lousma!  As a member of a Skylab crew, the first missions I watched on television in the 1970s, he's one of the very first astronauts I learned about -- and it was a pleasure to talk space science with him! We each experienced many of the same symptoms in our work, his in weightlessness and mine in simulations. Imagine my surprise when I described the NASA bedrest studies to him, and he whistled through his teeth thinking that *I* had been through a rough program!

Planning for the next day!

Rumor has it, next year's SpaceFest VI will be held in Las Vegas.  I'm pretty sure, after this experience, that I may be an annual attendee!  Photos from Day 1 are all inside the Pillownaut Picasa Gallery For SpaceFestV!