Friday, July 23, 2004

If a Man Falls in with a Mars Conference, Does He Make a Sound?

One of the rewards in winning the Kepler Prize is presenting your winning design at the convention.  Now truth told, all contestants had the option to enter papers, so the organizer of the contest assumed the winner got a general session.  Note that general sessions are a big deal, reserved for NASA project directors and celebrities, whereas the other sessions basically can be anything from “I have an idea, lets…” to reports back on those ideas tried in the field.  In On To Mars, you can see examples of both great ideas and research and not so great ideas or research.

So anyway, Tom pushed to get me a slot speaking in front of the entire convention on Sunday morning.  If I did so, I would have to upgrade my slides and do my best to be both professional and entertaining.  It’s also a way to screw up big time, if you fail, in front of basically everyone who you’d love to work for someday.  Considering the opportunity, I asked Tom to go ahead and ask.  Given the risk, I wasn’t upset when it didn’t work out as such.  Maggie Zubrin, who is in charge of the convention and is the wife of Robert Zubrin, basically said that if someone drops out, I could take a general slot, so bring two presentations (break out sessions are 30 minutes, general sessions an hour).

There is another prize I nearly forgot about the day I learned I won.  That is taking a shift on the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in the Utah desert.  This is a simulated Mars lander in the desert from which crews of six volunteers simulate the tasks of living and working on mars to see what can be learned to refine the designs of real vehicles later.  There is another simulated hab in the Canadian Arctic that was the topic of a Discovery Channel series.  Both sites are the topic of the Zubrin book Mars on Earth.

Basically, you pay to fly to Salt Lake City, and they take care of the rest of your needs (food?, transportation to the simulated lander) for the two weeks you are on site.  During that time, you do simulated mars activities, such as doing field geology and so on in simulated space suits.  You are also expected to maintain the base (keep the generator running, etc.) during your stay. 

It seems a good fit for me – on the one hand, growing up on a farm I’m familiar with hard outdoor work and maintaining small generators, etc.  On the other hand, while not a field-anything, I’m enough of a science reader I could probably take instruction on that fairly well, and I have the tech skills to maintain and upgrade the computer equipment and telescope.  Many groups go out with specific work projects, such as running a simulated Mars rover they’ve brought with them or simulating construction of mars structures with local materials.  While not at that level at the moment, I’m certainly a good enough grunt at assisting in such projects.

Maggie informed me that assuming the project is funded this season, I have a slot.  I just have to “talk to Robert and let him know my skills so that he can assign me to the appropriate crew”. 

Not funded?  Gulp...

What stunned me with this was the fact that in less than a year, I’ve went from reading this guy’s books and thinking maybe I’d go to his convention someday but not seriously planning to do so, to being on a first name basis of sorts with him and definitely his wife.  How’s that work?  If you’d told me this a year ago, or told me to do it a year ago, I would have been mystified.  Winning a major contest, getting honorable mention in another, and helping with the convention and speaking on panels at other conventions - especially when no one’s heard of you except by name, and no one really has noted you outside of the staff at the home office – that must be slightly weird for them as well, just enough to be remembered.  At one of the planning meetings, a guy I hadn’t met before was helping judge the posters from the poster contest.  He seemed to have authority.  He also seemed to remember me from meeting Robert Zubrin at Capricon – which was very odd.  I don’t remember Zubrin being with anyone, though that may be an error on my part.  Why would this guy remember me, or seem to do so?

Yep, it’s getting very Harry Potter-esque again.  Only when I get there, I don’t expect anyone outside the committee to recognize me when I arrive – not the home office, not the guests.  By the end, many will.  What they think is up to them. 

Oh, by the way, today is my birthday. 


Thanks!  That's sweet of you!

Pause...  Grin...

That's OK, I didn't remember yours, either!

In Space Politics...
In other news, a congressional group rather stupidly cut funding for the lunar return program.  On the 35th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.  As of today, Bush is threatening to veto the bill unless it restores funding.  Ironic that Bush and a lot of Moody Blues era liberals who now occupy space advocacy positions are so closely allied yet can't stand each other. 

By the way, most space advocates are boomers approaching retirement - they remember the promise of Apollo.  They are so prevalent in the movement they worry the whole thing will die out with them unless youth becomes interested soon.  How odd is that? "I wanna be an astronaut someday." is an OLDER person's realm, not that of children? 

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