I attended the International Astronautical Congress last week in Prague, Czech Republic. I attended the Vancouver Congress years ago, but as an exhibit staffer, not a presenter. This was my first time to present papers. Quite an experience.
I presented three papers in four sessions (one with co-authors Joanna Scorsone and Angela Triano) — all about sharing “space” in non-traditional ways. I must say, trying to find sessions to attend was like navigating a college course catalog. You can browse the IAC author’s index. Quite extensive, impressive, and absolutely overwhelming. I had trouble finding my own sessions.
I’ve posted “Rise Above the White Noise” on SlideShare. I’ll post the others too.
After each session, we had amazing conversations — sharing ideas and programs. I’m still sorting and processing. Here are a few highlights.
My fav presentation was European Space Agency’s Mars WebCam project. You’ll just have to check it out. The best example of “participatory exploration” that I’ve seen. They turned an unused mission camera back on to take photos of Mars. They offer the data to the public to process. The Mars WebCam folks post the “processed” images back on their site. Quite wonderful. They’ve created an amazing, enthusiastic community of Mars-watchers, who participate in the mission voluntarily with hundreds of hours of processing time to their credit. You can read the Mars WebCam blog. (Congrats on your shout out for the Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement 2010!)
I spent a delightful lunch with a Canadian teacher who wants to create a classroom version of LAUNCH:Water. We talked about the process for planning, how we pick the topics, background research, innovator selection, thought-leader selection, presentation format, impact rotation conversations, and follow-up. I’m so thrilled to see her move from concept to implementation in her school setting. If this works, we’ll spin-off our first LAUNCH x — which was always our plan.
A representative from the Korea Aerospace Research Institute shared his excitement about space. He visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida a decade ago and has been waiting all this time to take his family back. He finally got the opportunity recently. He’s still glowing from the experience. He’s busy creating his own little bit of space paradise in Korea, and wants to use some of our space outreach activities to help the public experience the thrill and drama of space.
The UK-based EADS Astrium CubeSat guys are eager to learn from us on how to use social media to build enthusiastic communities around satellite opportunities. Lots of CubeSat excitement, btw. I saw a number of CubeSat presentations. They need launch opportunities to prove their concepts.
The German-based EADS Astrium folks want to share ideas on outreach and community-building tools.
I loved seeing the Spanish-language website, ProgramaEspacial.com, presented by a professor from Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya on behalf of his Argentine colleagues. The site translates NASA mission updates and programming into Spanish and adds commentary by volunteer Spanish-speaking reporters. Well done. We hope to work more closely for future missions.
A representative from the China Academy of Space Technology wants to learn from us on how to reach out to the public. They don’t engage in “outreach” yet, but he is eager to understand how we make personal connections outside employees of the space sector. He liked Buzzroom, our NASA conversation collector, as well our newest social media note taking tool, Mind Mapr, which we’ll debut at the LAUNCH: Health sustainability forum.
I spoke on several occasions with a number of representatives in the South Africa space community. With Daughter #2 Steph in South Africa, I feel the need to touch all things related to her life. I was amazed to see plans for their new Space Port in Cape Town. They are forming a South African Space Agency. So cool!
I bartered two NASA pins for a South African delegation scarf, and wore it proudly!
I’m excited about next year’s International Astronautical Congress in Cape Town. Hopefully, I’ll be able to present papers again. Fingers crossed.
A note from our sponsors. Prague is an amazing city. Ancient, but urban. Beautiful, but worn out. The language sounds quite close to Russian, but the city feels more medieval than what I’ve seen in Moscow. Our hotel, the Holiday Inn, sat on top of the castle ruins of the Bohemian Empire. Walking to dinner every evening was a visual feast, with churches and gorgeous architecture all around us.
I must say, the search for bars in Prague took on a totally new meaning. By “bars,” I mean wifi and data roaming hotspots. The more “connection bars” the better. Picture us waving our iPhones in the air to get the best juice. Totally comical. Once we found connections, all conversation ceased. Heads down and fingers flying, we read and responded to as many email as possible in the shortest amount of time.
At times, we put down our digital devices and simply soaked in the culture…and an occasional serenade. (I have a few video recordings of our adorable Czech accordion player.)
The greatest highlight of this conference was the amazing opportunity to experience Prague with Daughter #1, Carol.
My daughters come from a Czech, Germanic heritage. (I’m more a a Celtic mutt with Scottish Irish roots mixed with English and French.) Pretty powerful and moving to learn the history of the Bohemia (I had no idea it was a place — I thought it was a state of mind) while walking on the cobblestone streets where my daughters’ ancestors may have walked. Czech phrases my mother-in-law taught me when the girls were little kept popping out of distant memories. We even found a little Czech bakery with poppy seed kolaches–a HUGE deal in Texas.
Thank you Prague for being such a wonderful host.