Tag Archives: IAC Prague 2010

Prague: Pets Reflect Politics?

Interesting observation during our visit to Prague: very few dogs wore leashes. They followed their owners obediently and submissively, displaying little interest in other dogs or people.

As we watched this day after day, I wondered about the differences in culture.

Why do American dogs seem so exuberant and curious about their surroundings? Out of control, some might say. Do American owners indulge their dogs or treat their dogs differently? Do we lack the training skills, as a people, to bring our dogs into submission? Are we an excessive society that allows our dogs free rein?

DachshundOn one occasion, we followed a tiny noodle dog (I’m a cat person) as a larger dog approached. The noodle dog jumped off the sidewalk and tumbled onto the cobblestone road to get around the other dog. The larger dog noticed the noodle dog stumble, then turned his attention back to the sidewalk and kept moving forward. Once the larger dog passed, the tiny dog scrambled back up onto the sidewalk. The owner was already around a corner and out of sight. The little guy could barely keep up.

Fascinating.

How can all these dogs be so well-behaved? Why do they show so little interest in their surroundings? Why do they keep to themselves? What can this mean?

Behind the Iron Curtain

Behind the Iron Curtain

Can it be possible that dog-behavior reflects an Iron Curtain mentality? I know that seems a stretch, but work with me.

Let’s look at Czech history. World leaders sliced and diced Czechoslovakia during World War II — way too complicated to summarize. The Czech Republic of today is a democratic republic, born from a heritage of brutal suppression under Communist rule from 1948-1968, and Warsaw Pact invasion force in 1968 through 1989. A few gory details: in 1969, student Jan Palach torched himself in Prague’s Wenceslas Square to protest Soviet occupation. Horrified, I googled Jan Palach. He survived for three pain-filled days before he died from third degree burns over 85% of his body.

Jaroslava Moserova, Czech burn specialist who treated Jan Palach, relayed his desperation in the crushed human spirit of his fellow citizens:

It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, all the decent people who were on the verge of making compromises.[1]

Memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc in front of Prague National Museum

Memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc (fellow protestor) in front of Prague National Museum.

In his last words, he discouraged others from following his example!!!

“My act fulfilled its role. But no-one else should follow me. Students should try to save themselves, and devote their lives to fulfilling our goals. They should fight alive.

Fast forward 20 years to 1989 and the non-violent Velvet Revolution which led to Democratic elections in 1990, the first in 60 years. January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia split peacefully into two states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

I, for one, feel incredibly thankful that I lead a very safe life in the land of the free. I’m thankful for the peaceful shift in political power every four to eight years. I’m thankful for the freedom to express my opinions and disagree with the leadership of my country.

But, what if I didn’t have the democratic freedoms I take for granted? How would handle the pressures of oppressive rule — the real life-and-death kind — not the bureaucratic red-tape kind I deal with daily in the federal government. How would I react if my life (or the lives of my daughters) depended on it? Would I submit or resist? I’d love to imagine myself as a freedom fighter, hiding families in my attic, and smuggling people to safety. But is that just wishful thinking? In reality, would I survive by:

  • keeping my eyes on the ground,
  • minding my own business,
  • following the rules, and
  • not making waves?

Hopefully, I’ll never have to make these choices.

So back to the story of the dogs.

Prague dogs keep their noses forward, eyes to the ground — indifferent to stimuli around them. Can we attribute this good behavior to superior training techniques? Or…do these pets mirror Iron Curtain survival traits?

Can the crushed human spirit from oppressive rule manifest itself in pet behavior?

Granted, this is all pure speculation. But, as a political scientist, I’m curious.

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Prague Highlights

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.

Space Expectations: Involving the Public in Space Activities.Rise Above the White Noise

Calling Planet Earth — Space Outreach to the General Public.Rise Above the White Noise

Water from Space: Societal, Educational and Cultural Aspects.LAUNCH:Water — Accelerating Innovation for a Sustainable Future

To Boldly Go — Space Station Education and Outreach. “SpaceSmart: Shifting Public Perceptions of Space”

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!

South African Space Delegation Scarf

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.

Church of St. Peter and St. Paul

Church of St. Peter and St. Paul next to our hotel.

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.)

UFlecku Accordion Player

UFlecku 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.

Traditional Czech Pastry
Traditional Czech Pastry in Street Vendor Carts

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