Jennifer VaughnJun 06, 2014

Building Our Community by Being Part of it

Much of our community building happens online, through our blogs, social media presence, videos, and podcasts. But, there's benefit to getting out in the community to connect with people in person, and we've been increasing our efforts to do just that.

The last six weeks have been especially busy due to an unusually high number of conferences and festivals, so I thought I'd summarize what's been going on and how The Planetary Society has been involved.

At the end of April, Explore Mars hosted their Humans to Mars (H2M) Conference in Washington, D.C. Explore Mars had an impressive line-up of speakers – including NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden – to update the participants on where we are now with our human exploration program and speculate about how we will reach the goal of getting humans to Mars by the 2030s. Our Director of Advocacy, Casey Dreier (who had recently worked closely with Explore Mars on the advocacy "Blitz") attended the conference and our co-founder Lou Friedman presented on the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which is a concept he helped develop. I was in town, so I was able to catch up with many of the participants after hours and get updates on how the conference was progressing. Explore Mars is doing a great service to the community by organizing this event.

Just as H2M wrapped up, the USA Science and Engineering Festival began in Washington, D.C. This weekend festival is free and open to the public so the attendance is outstanding. Literally hundreds of thousands of people of all ages passed through the convention center to explore and celebrate science and engineering. How cool is that! The Planetary Society was there in a big way. We had a booth staffed by volunteers and a few staff members. Bill Nye had a stage show on both Saturday and Sunday. Emily Lakdawalla also spoke on both days and was on stage with Bill during his shows. And Mat Kaplan hosted Planetary Radio Live with special guests Mike Rowe (best known for his Discovery show "Dirty Jobs") and Lockheed Martin's Chief Technology Officer, Ray Johnson.

Planetary Radio Live at the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival
Planetary Radio Live at the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival Image: Loren Roberts

In early May, Spacefest came to Pasadena. As the name suggests, Spacefest is a festival of all things space, and is known for its focus on astronauts and space art. The Planetary Society was a co-sponsor of Spacefest, and had a booth as well as stage events, including our Director of Science and Technology, Bruce Betts, introducing the "kickoff" event and Emily Lakdawalla with a Mars presentation (which, BTW, was excellent!). Spacefest gets an astounding number of astronauts to participate in the event, and they always dedicate time to interact with their fans. During one of these meet-and-greets, Mat Kaplan, who was getting interviews for Planetary Radio, captured a touching interaction between astronaut Gene Cernan and Curator of the Griffith Observatory, Laura Danly.

Only days after Spacefest, the National Space Society's ISDC came to Los Angeles. If you haven't been to an ISDC, these events are epic in scope – often six or seven simultaneous tracks over four days with no shortage of meals and other special events in the mix. Attendance was great, but with so many talks happening at the same time, the audiences were often thin. We participated in a few ways: Casey participated in a panel about planetary defense space policy, I emceed an awards dinner, Emily participated in two panels about space in the media, and Mat hosted another Planetary Radio Live, this one with Geoff Notkin from Meteorite Men and Susan Jewell, MD as Mat's special guests.

And finally, Bill and I went out to Colorado Springs for the Space Foundation's 30th Annual Space Symposium. This is another epic event with days that start at 8 am and end after midnight. Unlike all the previous events mentioned, the Space Symposium is created for people working in space industry, not necessarily the public. It's also a gathering of both civil space and military space, so there are a lot of attendees we don't see at other conferences. Bill had a special role at this Space Symposium as he was the emcee for the Space Generation's "Space Slam." The Space Generation is a young professional's group, and the "Slam" was a performance competition – each slammer had 10 minutes to communicate a space topic in a creative, engaging way. Slammers were judged by the audience using the questionable "applause-o-meter" - but, still, two slammers rose to the top, and in the end, a clear winner emerged. Sirisha Bandala used her 10 minutes to sing (well, rap) the praises of Zero-G flights a la Dr. Dre's "Nuthin but a G Thang."

Bill Nye and the Space Slam contestants
Bill Nye and the Space Slam contestants Image: Space Foundation

Getting out to large-scale conferences is just part of our initiative to connect with communities. Another major piece is our all-out effort to grow our volunteer network so we can reach out to communities around the world. We'll have more about the network and the types of activities our volunteers bring to their own communities in future posts. In the meantime, check out our current list of volunteer Outreach Coordinators, Kate Howells' recent post about activities in Canada, and consider getting involved as a volunteer or an Outreach Coordinator in your region.

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