As manager of The Planetary Society’s Global Volunteer Network, I love to share stories of amazing outreach work being done all around the world. Because of our team of passionate volunteers, we’re able to reach communities that would otherwise not hear about humanity’s exploration of space. Much of this work takes place outside of the United States. But sometimes a volunteer makes a big difference right in our own backyard. In this case, it was right in our office.
This month The Planetary Society’s hometown of Pasadena, California, was host to AlienCon, an enormous gathering of alien enthusiasts from around the world. When I say aliens, I don’t mean the microbial life that optimistic exobiologists think might exist in Europa’s subsurface oceans. At AlienCon, the focus is on super-intelligent alien life forms who tinker with humanity’s development, teaching us to make fire and build pyramids. According to this convention’s speakers, most astonishing human achievements are in fact the work of extraterrestrial beings. (To be clear, The Planetary Society disagrees with this point of view.)
Among the attendees of AlienCon was Steven Kurutz, a reporter for The New York Times. After a bewildering day at AlienCon, Kurutz happened upon the Society’s headquarters, just a block away from the convention. He came in and was greeted by one of the Society’s front desk volunteers, Sean Marquez. As he does for every visitor, Sean gave Mr. Kurutz a tour of the office and explained the Society’s work, our founding principles, and the LightSail missions.
Sean wouldn’t have known the impact his encounter with that visitor would have. He just did what every Planetary Society volunteer does: he acted as an ambassador for our organization and the work that more than 50,000 members proudly stand behind. He spoke with someone who knew nothing about our organization and conveyed to them the meaningfulness of this collective effort to understand the cosmos and our place within it.
Sean’s conversation with Steven Kurutz made an impact. Kurutz’s article on AlienCon – in a publication with over 50 million readers each month – closed by describing The Planetary Society’s work, and reflecting on the idea that humanity is capable of amazing things all on our own. To Kurutz, LightSail stands as an example of ingenuity and wondrousness that does not need to be explained by alien intervention.
Sean’s actions reflected those of volunteers around the world. The Planetary Society’s volunteers advance our mission in ways that digital content never can. They engage in meaningful ways with people, in person. And as Sean showed, by connecting with one person you can end up reaching millions more.
To get involved as a Planetary Society volunteer, go to planetary.org/volunteer.