SpaceFest Report #3

By Phil Plait | August 20, 2007 7:56 pm

I’m finally caught up on sleep, I think, after SpaceFest, and glad to be in a place where the high temperature is in double digits.

The SpaceFest 2007 meeting was fantastic. Just being able to hang out with astronauts was very cool all by itself. But there was a lot more. The art exhibit (SpaceFest was sponsored by NovaSpace, a space art store) was incredible. It was tempting to buy several pieces… but then I remembered I quit my job. Oh well.

Talking with other authors and scientists is always great, but the best part was being surrounded by space enthusiasts. These people were as delighted, awed, and overwhelmed as I was to be there. The talks were great — for example, Dan Durda and Rusty Schweickart gave a talk about mitigating asteroid impacts, which was completely fascinating, and made me realize I need to rewrite (well, add about 1000 words to) the first chapter of my book. I’m doing that tonight.

I also was able to get several autographs, including one from this guy:

Yeah, that’s Buzz Aldrin, signing a copy of my book. I got several astronauts to sign it (it was donated to me by my friend Bob Summerfield of Astronomy To Go), and I have big plans for it… which I will not divulge now. Later, I promise.

I took quite a few more pix, and they are now up on my Flickr page. But I have to include this one. It’s a bit fuzzy, but geez…

Those are all the astronauts who attended SpaceFest minus one or two who had already left (John Young and I think Dave Scott Update (Aug 22): the man standing on the left is Dave Scott). Several of those men walked on the Moon. The next time you see the Moon in the sky — and it’s up now as I write this — think about that as you gaze upon it. At the meeting, there was a strong sense of history, of course. But there was also a sense of future. A lot of people were talking about going back to the Moon, of what will be coming next. Buzz wants to help civilians and private companies get into space. Several attendees are working hard for that future. I’m joining them. When you are literally surrounded by men who stood on the surface of an alien world, you get this feeling that there really isn’t anything we cannot do.

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: if we can put a man on the Moon, we can do whatever needs to be done.

I hope those men get to see the next generation of men and women walk on its surface once again. They were our first ambassadors to the nearest world to us, and they will not be the last.


Comments (33)

  1. Eric TF Bat

    So the guys in the photo are all millionaires, right? No financial difficulties, no families in need of a little monetary assistance? Also, they have no interest in a little publicity, a book deal, a chance to get back at someone at NASA who annoyed them — right? Well then, that explains how the moon landing could be a hoax and none of these guys ever admitted it! Because if they weren’t millionaires now, they could become so, just by revealing the secret and milking it for publicity…

    Or there’s the possibility that the people who said it was a hoax are wrong, I suppose… Naaah!

    But seriously: “Follow The Money” is the one rule the conspiracy nuts never seem to follow. Larry Niven said he knows for sure that psychic powers don’t exist, because nobody is making money from them. Sure they make money from people’s belief in psychic powers, but never from simply using them, the way you use an electric motor or a computer. The moon hoax is the same, as is the Roswell landing, the Kennedy assassination plot, and all the other crackpot theories. There’s money in revealing the truth, and even if the people directly involved have a good enough pension plan, their family and friends may not. Sooner or later, hoaxes get revealed because Money Talks.

  2. Brad

    Those are two awesome photos. I must say that the first photo does not look as though it is of Buzz Aldrin, however. I’d love that book on my shelf.

  3. I’m just in awe of those pics, and the fun you had.

    Seeing all those astronauts in one place gives me fun goosebumps. I’m all a’shiver.

  4. Joshua

    You should have brought in some moon hoaxers so Buzz could punch em in the face!

    Seriously, thats a great pic of the astronauts. My biggest hope/dream is that I’ll be in space SOMETIME in my lifetime…

  5. while you had this amazing experience, i got to go to dinner with a colleague who said that the moon missions were a hoax. the justification was dumber than most — supposedly there was only footage of buzz aldrin and no more — this person didn’t even know the proper hoax arguments — her magickal lifestyle was enough to get by on. my eyes spun into the back of my head and my entire evening was ruined.

    life can be real fun, but sometimes it’s just too frustrating.

  6. Mighty Favog

    As you may know, Alan Bean has made a living as an artist since retiring, painting pictures of the moon landing. About fifteen years ago, I had the good fortune to work in the art store where he shops. I try real hard not to geek out over celebrities, and he made it easy not to. He was always very personable and easy to talk to. Oddly enough, I never talked to him about the moon landings, we always talked about art, and he gave me critiques on some of my paintings (how freaking cool is THAT?!). But every once in a while, I’d look at him and realize that I was talking to one of only twelve people in history to have walked on another world, and I’d get goosebumps and probably even started to stutter a little. I wonder if he noticed, or was used to that sort of thing. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Topp came in and I sold him a marker and I didn’t even flinch. Some people are famous for being famous, and their stars fade. But some people are famous and will go down in history for extraordinary achievements, and I decided it’s okay to engage in a little celebrity worship geekoid behavior in such cases. After all, he WALKED ON THE FREAKING MOON!!! And there he was, just walking around like a regular person, shopping…

    I wish I had a clever or funny anecdote to tell, but about the best I can do is that when I introduced him to a friend of mine, my friend asked him if he had any religious experience while in space. His response was that to his knowledge, no one came back with anything other than what they took with them.

  7. Yeah, Al’s great. Everybody genuinely likes him, because he’s genuinely likable. And some of his paintings are really great — I’d love to own one, but yikes. Even the prints were pricey. :-)

    A thousand years from now, if we still have history in a way that we can recognize, they will be talking about those 12 men, and the six who stayed in orbit, and the three who didn’t quite make it, and the handful who laid the groundwork, and the many who died trying. And the 400,000 who worked in the background to make it happen, one of whom was my father.

  8. Peter B


    Could you put some names to the faces in the group photo, please?

    Sadly, as these men age, they get harder to identify. I could only pick Ed Mitchell out of them with any certainty.

  9. hale_bopp

    I was in the restroom during the banquet and peed with Gene Cernan! And he was TALKING to everyone !

  10. Mighty Favog

    hale bopp:
    Dammit! That’s why I didn’t have a cool anecdote–the art store had a one-at-a-time restroom!

  11. Peter B, go to the Flickr image (click the one in the blog). They are listed there.

    As I told Hale-Bopp after he told me his story, he should have turned to Cernan and said, “Yeah, and I bet you’ll be the last one out of the bathroom, too!”

  12. csrster

    The last _so far_.

  13. Stouff

    Is that not Dave Scott standing on the far left of the back row in the group picture? It looks like him to me! it’s just on your flickr it says that individual is unknown!


  14. We CAN do anything but we have to become more proficient at thinking and less willing to be slaughterers.

    When you consider what the massive resources we put toward killing each other could have done in regard to bettering ourselves we could be a lot farther ahead than we are now with less danger and more hope which brings more motivation – an vicious cycle in a good way.

    Frankly, I don’t have a lot of faith in humanity although I don’t discount what we’ve accomplished either.

    It’s like all of mankind is being carried on the shoulders of a very small percentage of people who care to learn and willing to take extreme risks.

    And while they’re doing that there are people who not only do nothing to help but there are those who do anything they can to hinder us. The “moon landing conspiricists” for example, aren’t just paranoid but they are counter-productive and actually convince others that they’re right.

    And don’t even get me started on putting people in charge just because they seem like they would be cool to have a beer with…

    By the way, I don’t know if I mentioned this before but I met Neil Armstrong in the early 70’s when I was a caddy at a celebrity golf tournament. He hit me square in the ass when I was standing too close to a par 3 green. He apologized a lot but all I cared about was meeting Neil Armstrong and getting his autograph. I met Bob Griese at the same tournament. :)

  15. KaiYeves

    Yeah, Eric TF Brad, I’ve always countered the hoax theories with my Kai Equation: 12 men walked+ six in orbit+ 400,000 involved+ (almost) forty years ago+ every journalist in the world would kill for the story= 0% chance of hoax.
    The BA is right. Only 12 walked on the moon, but there were hundreds of thousands behind them. The book TeamMoon can tell you more about it. By the way, just as a trivia thing, does anyone else here know who briefed the Apollo 11 crew before take-off?

  16. Ian Regan

    Stouffon is right – that’s Dave Scott on the left in the back row.

  17. Dunc

    It’s a cliche, but it’s true: if we can put a man on the Moon, we can do whatever needs to be done.

    Tell that to the Iraqis. Sometimes you really can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube – or indeed the blood back in the veins.

    Sorry to be a bummer, but this “we can fix anything” mentality is a great way to get yourself into trouble that you actually can’t fix. Hubris kills.

    We can achieve some truly remarkable things if we really try – but there are limits.

  18. Karnbeln
  19. I suspected that was Dave Scott– I didn’t get a chance to talk to him, which was a bummer, since Apollo 15 was the launch I saw for myself in Florida when I was a kid.

  20. Dunc, I still disagree. Of course it’s too late for some things; we cannot change the past. But it’s not too late to fix them.

    For example, fundamentalist religious (and political) fanaticism (whether it’s “ours” or “theirs” ) which leads to violence shuts down the rational part of the brain and appeals to the baser parts. People like that are in the minority in the world, though because of their actions they capture the lion’s share of the attention. But they are the minority. We know that the rational part of the brain can overpower the irrational, and we know that people can live in peace.

    We can make things better for the future.

    We can do it.

  21. Gary Ansorge

    Dunc: Hubris: defined as “overwhelming pride” doesn’t kill, it merely goes before the fall. We(read all humanity) really CAN do anything, or at least anything that isn’t in violation of natural law. Given time, resources and will(and the “faith of a mustard seed”) we have learned to move mountains, raise the dead(if they’re only a few minutes dead), walk upon another heavenly body and tolerate stupidity/greed in our national leaders. My feelings toward the Bush and his cronies are that they are sociopaths who will do anything for power, regardless of its effects upon any other being.
    I have a great regard for humanity. I “believe” it has the potential to survive. Just look at any single mother busting her buns to feed, cloth and educate her children with minimal help from our “great society”. That’s the essence of a hero,,,
    ,,,and those 12 men, with the help of millions of hard working people, paying their taxes and hoping for a future worth living in, are the heroic cutting edge toward a universe of joy. Now we need to get off our butts and make that potential real for all. Which is what the BA and other thinkers are trying to do.

    Gary 7

  22. BJN

    We got to the moon because it was the ultimate high profile propaganda during the Cold War. It took a war mentality and the promise of a martyred president to keep the funds flowing, but once the propaganda mission was accomplished the funds dried up. We can indeed do amazing things, but it seems we can rarely do anything big for the right reasons.

    These guys are heros and the moon effort did give us all a valuable new perspective on the planet we inhabit.

  23. Quiet_Desperation

    >>> Larry Niven said he knows for sure that psychic powers
    >>> don’t exist, because nobody is making money from them.

    Not to defend psychic claims, but can Niven cite any data for this? I don’t know how you prove this.

    I’m serious. If I could predict horse races or stock markets due to some metaphysical ability with enough accuracy to consistently make money, I wouldn’t tell anyone.

    I figure the government, or someone with a lot of power, would have me in a lab or chained to a stock ticker so fast my poor psychic head would spin.

    Again, no, I don’t think anyone is doing this. It’s just not a sufficient statement to disprove psychic powers by itself, which seems to be his implication.

  24. “if we can put a man on the Moon, we can do whatever needs to be done”.

    No. Putting a man on the moon was easy. Bringing him back alive was the tricky bit.

    I seem to remember reading that JFK insisted that the words “and bring him back alive” were added to the original mission statement to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

  25. Mighty Favog

    Dunc: Even if we do wonderful things. we will always make mistakes.
    BA: Yes, of course we can do anything physically possible.
    BJN: There has to be a reason to do anything. And the only way to do anything is with money. At least, in the case you cite, a bad situation was the catalyst for much good to be done, and led directly to future cooperation between the superpowers even before the fall of the USSR.

  26. Mighty Favog

    Dunc: Even if we do wonderful things, we will always make mistakes.
    BA: Yes, of course we can do anything physically possible.
    BJN: There has to be a reason to do anything. And the only way to do anything is with money. At least, in the case you cite, a bad situation was the catalyst for much good to be done, and led directly to future cooperation between the superpowers even before the fall of the USSR.

  27. DenverAstro

    Phil, I have to say that I am just GREEN with envy. I look like Kermit the Frog right now. But it’s a good envy and I’m really happy for you that you were able to experience that. Those men, all of them, have been my heros since I was a little kid. Jim Lovell was always my personal favorite, tho.
    On a different note, I would like to talk to you about an event coming up in the near future which is sponsored by my company, Raytheon. This is a serious inquiry about you possibly making an appearance. What is the best way for me to contact you? My email is:
    Please contact me if you are interested and maybe we can work something out.

  28. KaiYeves

    The success of the Apollo program made the Golden Decade of space exploration that followed possible. It gave us our first taste of space, and we were hooked. If not for Apollo, we would not have had Viking, Pioneer, Voyager, or, for that matter Galileo, Magellen, Cassini-Huygens, Mars Observer, the MERs, Phoenix, New Horizions, Messenger, or the planned Orion. “We came in peace, and in peace we shall return.”
    Travel is broadening.
    It’s time to hit the road again.
    (Those last two lines are from the mystery guy I mentioned before. Does anyone have a clue now? Remember, I asked “Just as a trivia thing, does anyone here know who briefed the Apollo 11 astronauts before they flew to the moon?”)

  29. Debra

    I’m sure you all know about this film about those men who walked on the moon:

    I had the pleasure of seeing an almost finished cut of this at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival earlier this year. It is fabulous. Unbelievably fabulous.

    It will be playing in theaters in limited release next month (September 2007). I believe it will be released on DVD in spring 2008.

    It is a must see.

  30. Mena

    Oddly enough, I watched the From the Earth to the Moon series (yes, all of it) for the first time on Saturday. I was a bit young to remember a lot of this stuff (I was 35 days old at the time of the Apollo 1 tragedy, if anyone wants to dare to do the math!) but I do remember the frog men, launches on tv, etc. It was nice to have the blanks filled in. I’m not a space enthusiast per se, my interests are more toward the life sciences with a spattering of physics and there’s that darn math fetish but I do see what those guys did as being quite amazing. The idea of sitting on top of what amounts to a bomb, going through the physical endurance of lift off, sitting in a confined area, and having to take the chance that the environmental stuff works the whole time with the computer power of my calculator is quite impressive. It’s very sad that we didn’t keep up with the space program. Imagine what we could have done in the mean time and what we could have now. :^(
    BTW, on the subject of Gene Cernan, is there anyone else in the Chicago area who has no use for the Adler Planetarium after their “improvements” (which seemed to convert the show from an educational astronomy sky show to a video game) and has gone to the Cernan Space Center at Triton College? I went there once, it seems like they did the best that they could with the budget they have, but it is quite a step down. Is there somewhere around here that has a decent and educational sky show? Milwaukee perhaps?


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