Space Up, after

I just spent the weekend doing one of the more creative things I’ve done so far this year. I spent half of Saturday and nearly all of Sunday at SpaceUp, an unconference for space enthusiasts, makers, and doers held here in San Diego.

I swear, I spent the whole weekend vacillating between feeling like I was not at all cool enough to be there and unmediated glee. The passion that everyone there held for the subject was invigorating. There were people discussing the science and engineering of space vehicles and travel, but for every one of these was someone else who was passionate about the human story contained within our multiple (to-be-)attempted forays into the final frontier, and just as many whose purpose seemed to be to connect what is going on to an audience–an interested (existing) audience, and the audience that does not yet know that it is interested.

I considered it an exercise in creativity because participation is a requisite aspect of an unconference, and most people (including me) take the opportunity to hold real discussions about the topics that matter–and this is the point, not something on the side to be held in between preprogrammed sessions.

One of the threads that I found so fascinating was the idea that our future in space and space travel may depend on being able to connect people on earth with those who live and do space: for the most part, the astronauts (/cosmonauts/taikonauts/private enterprise spacefarers). Making space interesting, making it cool, something you want to be a part of, giving astronauts rock-star or movie-star appeal, making them heroes/heroines–these were lines of thought that reappeared in several of the sessions I sat in on (and at least one impassioned Ignite session). I argued at one point that we can’t imagine a future that involves space as a destination as a matter of course if we do not imagine ourselves there on a regular basis. Just as you can’t foresee yourself in a career you have no idea exists (or what it means), if you don’t know what it means to be an astronaut or a space engineer or a researcher on the ISS, how can this ever be considered a possibility?

In the past, we were encouraged to emulate and admire our astronauts–now, do you have a favorite? Do you even know the names of the current inhabitants of the ISS? And yet they are people, and they are people who are living an extremely cool and interesting life, IN SPACE.

If I got to sleep in a bag velcroed to the wall so I don’t float away, play guitar crosslegged upside down while looking out on a gorgeous blue-white world, chug my o.j. through a straw without even holding the cup and watch plants grow without gravity to control their root development, I’d want to yell about how fabulous it was, maybe have my poster on some kid’s wall somewhere. I’d want everyone to be up there with me.

So how do we show everyone down here what they’re missing?