TSM Visits 1st Space Exploration Conference
in Florida

by Ivor Dawson

February 2, 2005
(Cape Canaveral & Orlando Fla.)

From January 27th to February 2nd, Teen Astronaut hopeful Justin Houchin and this reporter were guests of Lockheed-Martin, the Corporate Sponsor of the “1st Space Exploration Conference” in Orlando. We were also invited to witness the launch of the last Atlas III rocket in the evening of the 27th at Cape Canaveral.

Organizers of the 1st Space Exploration Conference, co-sponsored by NASA, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), Aviation Week and others hoped to explore “new missions [and] technologies …from robotics and nuclear-powered propulsion to innovative vehicles for human exploration of space to expeditions (both manned and unmanned) to the moon, Mars, and beyond.”

Technical problems delayed the launch for a week so Justin and I missed the launch. To our surprise, our hosts arranged a private tour of the Cape Launch Complex (including the Atlas III launch pad) led by Tony Barnini, Staff Safety Engineer for Lockheed-Martin Launch Operations. The knowledgeable and engaging Mr. Barnini spent almost four hours driving us to the various launch facilities including the new Atlas V Launch Control Facility. Tony is also a wildlife expert so he happily chased down critters that inhabit the Cape Launch Complex for our perusal. The government maintains a Wildlife Preserve at the Cape, which is also home to armadillos, turtles, roosting eagles, alligators that climb wire fences and over 50,000 wild pigs! An army of wranglers is kept on-hand to deal with critters that might jump out and interfere with launch operations.

By shear coincidence, Justin and I found ourselves at the Apollo I test bed –the site of the Apollo I fire --on the anniversary date of the event! The following day, we visited the Kennedy Space Center and the Astronaut Memorial on the anniversary of the Challenger disaster.

On January 29th, we moved into our suite at the Contemporary Hotel at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom—the site of the 1st Space Exploration Conference. Free passes, courtesy of the Conference, led Justin and I to Disney World’s Epcot Center. Epcot was impressive -- reminiscent of New York City’s World Fair in 1964 that inspired another kid from the Bronx, Stanley Kubrick -- to dream of space travel.

January 31st, the conference began with optimistic remarks by Retired Rear Admiral Graig Steidle, Head of Project: Constellation (building the new shuttle fleet) and John Karas, VP of Space Exploration & Business Development for Lockheed-Martin. The Keynote speech, delivered by out-going NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, faithfully delivered the President’s vision of America’s Return to Space. No mention of cost for future missions to the moon and Mars. That might have been a downer.

Attendance wise, the Conference was off to a rousing start. Attendees from government, industry, academia and space agencies from around the world totaled about one thousand. More than 650 scientific papers were submitted and 60 or so were selected for presentation.

The presentations covered the gamut of manned and unmanned space missions. Subjects ranged from: Lunar Dust Problem--From Liability to Asset to my personal favorite: Hubble Robotic Servicing--Stepping Stone for Future Exploration Missions.

Justin, a member of Team 980, the Southern California Regional Champs of the FIRST Robotics Competition, sat in on a break-out session that covered the topic: “Automation and Robotic Exploration” moderated by Benton Clark of Lockheed Martin. The day was capped off with a trip to Epcot Center where guests were treated to a buffet dinner, live music, a ride on the Mission: Space adventure and a fireworks display that was out of this world! Did I mention that Conference guests were treated to breakfast, lunch and dinner from start to finish?

Day Two (February 1st ) began on a somber note, as it was the anniversary date of the Columbia disaster. The remainder of the day was particularly exciting for Justin who was introduced to the audience as being one of the judges of the Space Exploration Video Festival --a national student video contest sponsored by the Conference. Students ranging in age from 12 to 18 were invited to submit home videos that demonstrated why space exploration is important. Many humorous and creative videos were submitted. Justin’s favorite entry, a video submitted by students from Atlanta, was named the winning entry.

Later that day, Justin got a chance to discuss the First Teenager in Space Project which NASA’s Sean O’Keefe, filmmaker James Cameron and other NASA luminaries. Stopping to say “hi” was our old friend, former astronaut Dan Brandenstein. We’re hoping Dan can make a repeat visit to Traveling Space Museum’ Space Day at Longfellow E. S. in Riverside Ca. on June 2, 2005.

Day Three saw the two of us with time to attend only one break out session: Outreach and Program Sustainment and then it was off to the airport for the trip home.

A big TSM thank you goes out to John Karas, Kristin Connors, Joan Breckenridge and Tony Barnini –all from Lockheed-Martin for making everything possible.

Congratulations to the organizers and sponsors of the 1st Space Exploration Conference. They will be hard pressed to top themselves next year!

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Justin is as close as you can get to an Atlas rocket and not be a passenger
The Memorial Plaque honors America’s fallen astronauts and trainees.
Inside the Firing Room of the Atlas V Launch Control Facility
Tony Barnini and friend