I was fortunate enough to attend the NASA social at the 70th International Astronautical Congress in Washington, D.C. this year. The IAC as they call it is held in different places every year (next year it’s in Dubai) and it is where private companies and governments get together to talk about space. So basically a space themed conference, which is pretty awesome. As part of the NASA Social group, we got early access to the show floor, front row seats to some of the big talks, and even a private tour of a cool part of NASA’s headquarters nearby. In short, it was an epic day.
After we got early access to the show floor, we were able to wander around for roughly an hour after the floor opened to the public before the first talk of the day. That talk was from Jim Bridenstine, who is the current administrator of NASA. While he was appointed by a President I am not a fan of at all, he has undeniably done an excellent job of elevating both knowledge of NASA and NASA funding. He gave an excellent speech (below) about the state of us going to the Moon and then to Mars. I’m really excited to see how that goes over the next decade or so, even if I can’t go myself 😦
After that, we got to watch a panel of former astronauts speak about their various experiences in space. There were three from NASA and three from the Russian/ESA side – all of them got to visit the ISS at one point in time. Everyone from the Russian/ESA also got to spend time on the Mir station before it was decommissioned as well. We even got to see a presentation of a Russian Medal of Friendship presented from Sergey Krikalev to Charlie Bolden! The event was moderated by Leland Melvin, who still has one of the coolest official astronaut photos ever.
(I probably should have stayed for the next talk – turns out I missed hearing from Buzz Aldrin in person)
Once those talks were completed, I explored the show floor a bit more. I noticed that there was at least 10 demos that were VR based (either Oculus or Vive), including one that had an omnidirectional treadmill! I’m really excited to see VR/AR/MR take root here as I think its a perfect use for the medium (and selflessly it validates my prediction from years ago). There was a variety of levels of immersion – from head mounted Hololens on an open space to actually docking a craft in a partial simulator. It was very cool to see how these demos resonated with people attending the conference. I also made a point to take a LOT of photos with my 360 camera so I could share how it felt to look around and “be there”.
After lunch, we herded down to the metro (all 32 of us) to head over to NASA’s Headquarters. This is where all of NASA that isn’t hands on space stuff (read: finance, media) operates out of, with some functions that are also on specific sites (like social media teams). Did you know that NASA has its own police force? No, it’s not Space Force, nor are they called Space Cops (I asked). After we bombarded the gift shop, we headed up to the Space Operations Center.
This command center is where they work if something is going wrong on the ISS/in space. They have dedicated downlinks from the ISS here as well as the astronauts schedules so they can see where people are in an instant. They can also directly talk to the astronauts and/or Houston/Cape Canaveral if they need to. This room being in DC also allows other members of the government to join NASA’s leadership in person if needed.
Once we all got into the room, we heard from a few really cool people. We heard first from the team that runs this center. Then, we heard from James Green, who is NASA’s Chief Scientist on why we are going back to the moon. Turns out it’s more than I thought – there is enough water ice to provide water/fuel for a large group of people! We heard from Lindsay Atlichson about the different Artemis spacesuits and why they are designed the way they are. The Artemis missions will have 2 spacesuits – one for travel to/from and one for EVAs, unlike the Apollo missions. After she was done, it was time to go home (read: go to the Vienna Inn and eat chili dogs).
Overall it was a total blast of a day (look: puns!) and I cannot wait for my next NASA social event.
I’ve had a few people ask me how I get to attend these cool events. The answer is I apply here for a credential: https://www.nasa.gov/connect/social/index.html , cross my fingers, and hope I get a yes email!
Wanna see these 360 photos…in 360? Click here!