Sunday, May 26, 2013



Day two of SpaceFest V, and we have slowed down not at all! Yesterday was the anticipated astronaut marathon, but today I concentrated more on the lectures and all the amazing scientists here. And what an incredible line-up of 21st Century frontal lobes...!

Carolyn Porco and Brian Cox
Carolyn Porco and Brian Cox

We were treated to a lecture by the captivating Dr. Carolyn Porco, one of the most brilliant planetary scientists alive today; she was also a consultant on Carl Sagan's "Contact" and the last Star Trek film. Following her was British particle physicist, Brian Cox. It was gratifying to hear them speak, largely because they didn't "dumb down" their work into bite-sized pieces. Carolyn detailed new and as-yet unpublished discoveries around Saturn, including recent findings about the moon Enceladus. Brian covered photon physics and the Large Hadron Collider, each with the confidence that the audience was adept with scientific concepts and equations.

It's a relief to get the real data, not the quick-cut-edited tidbits from the History Channel (which isn't really History anymore) or the Discovery Channel (which doesn't always discover) and the Science Channel (which is actually brilliant, and you should be watching it regularly).

Phil Plait
The BadAstronomy Guy! With pal Richard & Phil Plait

My luncheon host that day was Phil Plait, a fantastic author and ├╝ber-blogger I've followed for many years. Just before we ate, we sat in probably the most packed lecture so far for a single speaker, while Plait offered up details on Martian terrain, and the Curiosity Rover landing (can't believe that was nearly a year ago now!). We all remember the elation of the MSL success, following the riskiest entry, descent and landing (EDL) sequence ever attempted.

After lunch, we moved on to the esteemed Dr. Rosaly Lopes, solar system volcanologist -- and one thing I've learned that I honestly had NO inkling of before, is how difficult it is to deduce topography of distant Moons to detect volcanic activity! In years past, we simply didn't have good enough instrumentation for certain types of studies, but our current and next-gen crafts headed toward the gas giants should fill in many blanks.

Another highlight of the afternoon was the articulate-if-tremendously-fast-speaking Dr. Britney Schmidt, who knows more in her sleep about Europa, analogous Antarctica, and life of extremophiles than I will probably ever know! When I have more time, I'll definitely describe her amazing Jovian system projects more in-depth, and promote their mission to Jupiter's Moons!

Scott Carpenter
"Original Seven" astronaut Scott Carpenter

The diamond of the day was getting to have dinner with Mercury 7 Astronaut Scott Carpenter, one of only two living members of the most exclusive astronauts, chosen by NASA in April of 1959.

Scott was the second American to orbit the Earth and the fourth American in space, following Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom and John Glenn. Carpenter and Glenn are the last surviving members of the Mercury Seven.

He is still the test-pilot charmer at 88, to be sure, and it was a heart-racing experience to watch him receive a standing ovation from the entire crowd at SpaceFest, as this week is the 51st anniversary of his Aurora 7 flight, in which he orbited Earth 3 times!

Quite the finale. I'm trying to think of a better Saturday somewhere in my past. Can't!