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Bill NyeOctober 9, 2012

International Astronautical Congress 2012 Recap

Again this year I represented The Planetary Society at the International Astronautical Congress. This year, we met in Naples, Italy. This meeting brings together space scientists, rocket people, and spacecraft engineers from all over the world.

Italy from the International Space Station

NASA

Italy from the International Space Station

The days' events feature plenary sessions. The first day had the heads and the deputies of the world's space agencies seated together on stage taking questions from the audience. Listening to Jean-Jacque Dordain, Charlie Bolden, and Sergei Savliev, I just got the feeling that everyone would like a mission to Mars in 2018, the ExoMars spacecraft, but nobody is quite willing to pay for it. For us seeking answers to deep questions. This is a loss. One by one, the Mars exploring agency heads of NASA, ESA, and Roscosmos mentioned the budget tightening they're faced with. The exception was Yafeng Hu, the Chinese representative. He spoke as though his program was well funded and on track. As always, I feel there's a strong connection between investment in space and the success of a country's economy- rather than the other way around.

Meanwhile, I delivered our technical paper about our Living Interplanetary Flight Experiments (LIFE). Bruce Betts our Director of Projects did a great deal of the work on the paper. During my talk I pointed out how enthusiastic our members are for this kind of research. Although many experts made predictions about the status of living things sent on a round trip to the vicinity of Mars, no one knows what will happen. As the Boeing test pilot Tex Johnston remarked, "One test is worth a thousand expert opinions." So, our Shuttle LIFE test run, and the effort and spirit of the Phobos-LIFE mission, were applauded by the technical audience. Once again, thank you for your support. In response to a couple of questions, I discussed the possibility of sending one of the remaining LIFE biomodules to the Moon on a Lunar X-Prize spacecraft. We'll see.

I also moderated a panel discussion of the use of social media in space missions. Outlets like Facebook and Twitter are ideal of space agency Education and Public Outreach (EPO). That is kind of what many of us might expect. But the panelists pointed out the remarkable nature of multiple sources of information available for news of space events. If there is a meteor streaking through the skies of the United Kingdom, scientists can monitor Twitter and get a nearly complete assessment of its path, size, and composition. The aurora borealis was observed by hundreds of tweeters. Social media are being used to coordinate experiments on the International Space Station and to run whole rocket programs at universities. Those with the need to know what's going on, log on, provide the information they're responsible for, and stay connected to the team. All this in ways my father could imagine perhaps but not quite visualize. What a world.

I attended meetings of the Space Education and Outreach Committee and the World Space Week organization. We hope to become increasingly involved with these groups, as they are comprised of people with whom we have a great deal in common

There is a great deal of activity between meetings of course. I made connections with all sorts of people that we hope to work with in the near future. Thanks for supporting our participation in this planet-wide gathering.

Read more: Space Policy, personal stories, Bill Nye, Future Mission Concepts

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Emily Lakdwalla
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