Lyford RomeMar 04, 2010

Greetings From Space Up in Sunny San Diego!

When Lyford Rome posted to about this SpaceUp "unconference," I was intrigued, and I asked him to write a post about it for the blog.

Well, the weather may not have lived up to the title, but spirits were not dampened one bit at the first SpaceUp "unconference" held at the San Diego Air and Space Museum March 27th and 28th. Entrepreneurs, engineers, educators and enthusiasts gathered amidst the historic aircraft and spacecraft to participate in panel discussions and demonstrations, as well as an IGNITE presentation round on Saturday evening. Representatives from NASA, "New Space" and space advocates of all stripes intermingled in the lively forum.

I was a little unsure of what to expect when I signed up for the weekend. This was the first space advocacy "unconference" open to the public. The unconference is a concept born out of the software industry, where conference participants themselves decide the topics, schedule, and structure of the event. These events self-assemble quickly and morph constantly: talks are merged and presentations shuffled on the fly, often based upon what had just happened in another session.

At the beginning, the scheduling board is opened, and all attendees can choose to add a topic to the schedule. Negotiations ensue, presenters fight for coveted time slots and the sessions that gain the most traction rise to the top. After the first session, everyone runs back to the board and the process repeats. New ideas emerge based upon what conversations get started and new topics get proposed. This flexibility, coupled with the short sessions and scheduled "hallway time," keep the discussion moving at a brisk pace.

While this may seem unorthodox, the eclectic group of attendees ensured that the discourse was both intelligent and fluid, and the weekend truly grew organically. Indeed, this format seems to be the only way a conversation could be had simultaneously between over 100 people from such diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

While I cannot do the entire weekend justice, here are a few highlights of sessions in which I was privileged to participate:

  • Diana Trujillo and Chris Lewicki talked about their experiences working on MSL, the Mars Exploration Rovers, and Phoenix for JPL.
  • Robbie Schingler from openNASA presented on open source in NASA and space.
  • Nathan Hubbard initiated a "TweetUp at SpaceUp" and Sean Herron of Space Operations Mission Directorate Outreach Program at NASA represented social media opportunities for outreach.
  • Dave Matsen, winner of the 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge, led a discussion of the NASA budget implications for the new alternative space companies.
  • Paul Breed of Unreasonable Rocket shared stories of competing for the X-Prize and even brought the rocket to show off!!! (photo below!)

The entire weekend was podcast live by SpaceVidcast; archives can be seen here. Archive topics are being posted at the SpaceUp Wiki.

I was impressed at how consistently outreach and access were themes as people discussed how to open minds to inspiration and open space to participation. The unconference format was a perfect framework for this; it was in itself both inspirational and open. If the success of the first SpaceUp is any indication, there will be many more of these events in the future. I am convinced that this style of forum is an essential tool in building up the space advocacy community.

Unreasonable Rocket's X-Prize Entry
Unreasonable Rocket's X-Prize Entry Image: Lynford Rome

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