How surprised would you be if I just happened to mention that you could meet fifteen real life NASA astronauts, including several Apollo mission moonwalkers, right here in Tucson this weekend? Oh, and there’s lots more too. Also present at this year’s SpaceFest V convention, opening tomorrow at the glamorous Starr Pass resort, will be television science celebrity Professor Brian Cox; Dr. Carolyn Porco, award-winning scientist and consultant for Contact and Star Trek; space historian Andrew Chaikin; world-famous astronomer Phil Plait, and a couple of dozen other science luminaries, astronomers, television hosts, space program specialists, and celebrated authors. There should be enough eclectic brain power buzzing through the Starr Pass this weekend to populate a whole new geek planet.
Visitors and guests travel from around the world, and around the country, to attend the annual event and yet it remains relatively unknown here in Tucson, where SpaceFest’s founders reside. That fact gives the function a relaxed, intimate, and friendly atmosphere, which is good, because I have seen grown men almost faint with excitement when meeting personal heroes such as moonwalker and accomplished artist Alan Bean; Scott Carpenter, America’s fourth man in space; or Fred Haise, courageous lunar module pilot of the doomed Apollo 13 mission.
I was a guest speaker at SpaceFest last year and I am returning this year with my customary display of meteorites, and a few new tales of adventure. I’ll also be presenting a lecture about my work on Meteorite Men the television series, and participating in various special events, including the Asteroid Panel on Sunday evening. I have been a space program devotee since I was a little boy and, last year, I was genuinely amazed by how approachable, modest, kind, and friendly our astronauts are. It can be a little humbling to stand in the presence of people who literally made history during the greatest of all adventures, but they quickly put guests at ease, and — with a little gentle persuasion — are usually ready to delight and entertain with stories of their off-world travels.
SpaceFest opens this evening, Thursday, May 23, with a VIP reception, and continues through Sunday night, with panel discussions, special luncheons and dinners, an opportunity to have your photo taken with all of the visiting astronauts, a series of fascinating lectures, along with exhibits of space memorabilia, books, meteorites, NASA photos, and space-themed artwork. I participate in a lot of science and space events each year, and SpaceFest is easily one of my favorites, due largely to the care with which the event is organized and hosted by Kim and Sally Poor of Novaspace. Long-time experts in space art and space program memorabilia, and personal friends with many of our astronauts, the Poors bring a caring touch to SpaceFest that is often lacking at other high profile celebrity events.
General admission is $20 daily, or $50 for a three-day pass. Children under 12 are admitted free with adult. Please note that there are additional fees for some events, including panels, lectures, and the banquet with keynote address by Deep Space Industries founder and CEO, Rick Tumlinson. Most of the astronauts charge a fee for their autographs, and please don’t begrudge them that. Our spacemen risked their lives — sometimes for years on end — for a modest government salary. They are an inspiration to millions, and their signatures are worth money; it’s better that money go directly to the men who made history, rather than autograph dealers. Autographs, photos, lectures and so forth are all optional. It doesn’t cost anything extra to shake the hand of Gene Cernan, the last moonwalker, or ask Ed Gibson to tell you about his 84 days onboard Skylab.
We lost Neil Armstrong during August of last year, and most of our Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo-era astronauts are now in their eighties. While their accomplishments are likely to be admired forever, we all may have to give in, eventually, to the ravages of time and I wonder, rather sadly, how many more of these events we will see. Personally, I can’t think of any way I would rather spend my time than sharing a ballroom with some of the most remarkable explorers and pilots the world has ever seen. Meeting an astronaut in person could change a smart science kid’s life. So, bring one or two with you, if you can, and you might plant a seed that will — given another twenty years — sprout on another world. I wouldn’t want to miss that for anything.
SpaceFest V runs from May 24 through May 27 at the Marriott Starr Pass Resort in Tucson, Arizona. More information >>>
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