Multiple Generations Convene at SpaceUp LA

By Seth Potter

SpaceUp Los Angeles was held on November 9 and 10, 2013, at the Western Museum of Flight in Torrance, CA. Billed as an “unconference,” the goal was to encourage all to participate by letting attendees decide on topics and providing a means for anyone to give a talk or lead a discussion. The agenda is set at the conference rather than in advance, encouraging spontaneity and broad-based participation. SpaceUps have been held for several years in many cities. This year’s SpaceUp LA was organized by Eric Gever of Boeing and Molly McCormick of SpaceX on behalf of the Young Professionals group of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), Los Angeles – Las Vegas Section. Sponsors included the National Space Society (NSS), AIAA, several aerospace companies, and one private investor. The 87 attendees – or more properly, participants – included not just a “base” of young professionals, but also individuals from grade-school age through retirement. All participants could lead or contribute to a discussion. In addition, displays included a 3-D printer in operation, as well as a rocket engine from XCOR.

The conference began with introductory remarks by Gever. He pointed out that while Los Angeles is a center of space exploration, our national space program is fragile. SpaceUp is one way that individuals can invigorate our space program. Each individual then had a chance to introduce him/herself. Gever then instructed the participants how to get their discussion topics on the agenda. A grid was displayed showing four (later five) meeting locations or “Pods” with multiple 45-minute time slots. There were 43 such sessions throughout the weekend. Participants posted topic titles in the grid, and then broke for lunch.

During lunch, Space Tourism Society founder and president John Spencer spoke about NSS’ International Space Development Conference (ISDC) 2014, to be held in Los Angeles next May. Spencer, who is the programming chair of ISDC 2014, encouraged participants to attend, as well as to get involved with the Organization for Space Industrialization and Settlement (OASIS) – the Los Angeles chapter of NSS.

After lunch, the participants dispersed to the various Pods. In one Pod, the Radcliff family gave a demonstration of the educational computer game Kerbal Space Program. The discussion was led by the Radcliffs’ young son, Ben. Later, NSS advisor and OASIS board-member-at-large Seth Potter led a discussion on “Sublight Robotic and Human Interstellar Flight,” covering various means of propulsion as well as whether or not our society is ready to undertake such missions. Spencer gave a presentation on his Mars World project in Las Vegas. Once completed, this would allow travelers to experience life in a simulated Mars environment. While each of these was going on, there were several other Pods engaged in conversations ranging from concrete construction on Mars, to advanced space suit design, to new propulsion techniques. These were presented by experienced aerospace industry professionals, interns and new hires, as well as students and local space enthusiasts.

During a mid-afternoon break, a space trivia contest was held, with Jared Head emerging as the winner among over 50 contestants. Afterward, the Pod discussions continued. NSS Executive Committee Chairman Mark Hopkins led a discussion on “Interstellar Space Settlement.” The theme of the discussion was that propulsion technology is progressing more slowly than nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Therefore, the solution to the colonization of other solar systems may be to think small, for example by sending DNA and molecular scale machines (nanites) to the stars.

Brandon Larson led a discussion on “NSS – Beyond Advocacy.” He suggested that the NSS start its own space program in Mojave, CA, possibly through a special-interest chapter.

During dinner, Planetary Radio host Mat Kaplan led a discussion on “As NASA Administrator, what would you do with $10 billion?” This was recorded for broadcast on various radio stations, as well as online at

Following dinner, there were five T-5 (“T minus five”) presentations, perhaps the only presentations in SpaceUp that were scheduled in advance. The ground rules were that the presenters must show exactly 20 slides, each on screen for exactly 15 seconds, for a total of 5 minutes for each presentation. Jared Head, guide at the Griffith Observatory, gave a presentation on “Kill Your Idols: Engage the Future by Stepping Away from Your Past”. USC astronautical engineering PhD student Nick Orenstein spoke on robotic methods to reclaim water on the Moon and Mars. Richard Garcia spoke on the Reaction Research Society’s rocket design and propellant development. Artist Joi Weaver presented on Overcoming the Curious Lack of Curiosity” specifically about the public’s lack of interest in space exploration. Potter spoke on “Where’s the Stuff: An Overview of Solar System Properties and Resources,” a shorter version of a talk he gave for an OASIS-NSS-sponsored lecture and for ISDC 2013.

The Pod discussions continued on Sunday, with an even greater air of informality. Young Ben Radcliff led “Let’s talk about Warp Drive.” Potter led discussions on “Estimation Made Easy” and on OASIS-NSS space advocacy in the Los Angeles area. Lunchtime presentations were given by Mark Street of XCOR, in which he showed videos of the X-Racer and Lynx rocket-powered aircraft, and Michael Hall, who gave a presentation on Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft. The day wrapped up with awards for best Pod, as well as best T-5 talk, as voted by participants. The former went to Nick Orenstein for his Pod “Campfire Stories” and the latter went to Head for the T-5 talk mentioned above. Gever then closed out the “unconference” with final remarks.

Generations of visionaries often talk of passing the torch to the next generation. At SpaceUp LA, the torch was held high by all.

See SpaceUp photos here.

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