Last weekend, the European Space Agency hosted at its Paris headquarters a highly unusual event: a conference most notable for not being one, at all. SpaceUp is an unconference, where attendees from all walks of space-loving life are invited to contribute. Aerospace engineers shared the floor with students and developers, journalists and astronauts. No one was out of place in a community defined only by its passion for space science and exploration.
This weekend I met space enthusiasts for the first time. You are so cool !! I'll follow you #spaceup wherever you're going !— Vincent Raynal (@CitizenErased7) May 27, 2013
The young man behind this heartfelt tweet is still a student at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. And, yet, in an executive conference room at European Space Agency headquarters – hallowed halls, in the space community – he delivered one of the most impassioned and appreciated talks at SpaceUp Paris. It struck a chord, no doubt, because he managed to express in words the enthusiasm that had been bubbling through the place for the last two days.
The point of SpaceUp, an “unconference” held in cities around the world, is not to get into the nitty-gritty of next-generation rocket design; there are specialized conferences for that. The point of SpaceUp, and the joy of it, is to provide a forum where anyone—indeed, each and every one—is encouraged to discuss, question and explore the future of humans and space.
Which is not to say that the self-proclaimed “spacegeeks” don’t have their idols. ESA astronauts, past and present, spoke with attendees, describing their experiences in orbit, their training, their expectations for the future. Luca Parmitano checked in via recorded message—understandable, given he was in quarantine leading up to yesterday’s successful flight to the ISS with crewmates Karen Nyberg and Fyodor Yurchikhin.
Later, a live link-up connected SpaceUp Paris to SpaceFest V, happening in Tucson, Arizona, where more space celebrities (Apollo astronauts, well-known names like Nick Howes and Geoff Notkin…) exchanged with the enthusiastic crowd in the French capital.
But, naturally, the real stars of this edition of SpaceUp, giving life to the meeting over the course of the weekend, were the attendees gathered at ESA. What follows are some highlights that happen to stand out in my own mind; the major problem with SpaceUp Paris lay in the impossibility of being everywhere at once.
International Space Apps Challenge winner, @spacekate introduced us to “T-10”. The app warns you 10 minutes before the ISS flies over your location, and also gives the astronauts a 10-minute heads-up when they’re about to pass over a spot on Earth to be photographed.
Landing on a comet is, in fact, “non-trivial”, Mark Bentley revealed with just a touch of understatement. Ditto for presenting the “insanely cool” Rosetta project in only 5 minutes.
With the burst of a balloon, a “space debris piñata” showered SpaceUp attendees with its, in this case, candy contents. The lively talk by Alex von Eckartsberg both entertained and informed listeners about the dangers posed by debris in space.
Reinhard Tlustos presented the Mars2013 simulation and its analogue science carried out in the Moroccan desert. Later, other enthusiastic members of the Austrian Space Forum called in to exchange with SpaceUp Paris.
Great projects and discussions abounded, but I can’t and don’t need to list them all here: you can browse the live tweet that was going strong, all conference long. And watch the videos of the talks on ESA’s website. And get a feel for the event through the hundreds of photos, thousands of tweets, a number of videos and presentations archived on Eventifier.
Thank you, SpaceUp and ESA, for all the enthusiasm and this opportunity to learn and to share. I believe Alex Cureton-Griffiths’ words speak for many a spacegeek in attendance:
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Find out more:
SpaceUp Europe Rocks ESA Headquarters
SpaceUp: The Space Unconference
SpaceUp Paris 2013, on Flickr