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ISDC 2011

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It was a coming together of minds, techies and non-techies alike. The one thing they had in common was a vision to the future, an intent to advance civilization into the outer reaches of space. That old adage—going where no one (man or woman) has gone before—would probably be a good way to describe the mindset of the ISDC.

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Even as the nation celebrates the fifty-year anniversary of the first steps on the moon, change is in the air. It was fitting that the ISDC (International Space Development Conference) this year was in Huntsville.

ISDC is the yearly conference of the National Space Society (NSS). Bart Leahy, ISDC Chair explains, "NSS is a catch-all organization for people who are passionate about expanding human civilization off Earth and into the rest of the solar system. It's bipartisan in its approach and very interested in any technical or political approaches that get human beings into space. ISDC is a "big tent" event where advocates of many stripes come to network, learn what's new, and share their thoughts on the future."

And so they came, a veritable who's who in the space industry. There were leaders in commercial space, astronauts, engineers, writers, educators, and a whole lot more. NASA was there, along side old time space industry leaders like ATK, right along with the new kids on the commercial space block (Space-X, Virgin Galactic and XCOR). There were retirees who had spent their entire lives working aerospace, who now in their retirement are continuing the effort as NSS volunteers. Right alongside them were students, the young, also looking to do their part, seeking to one day make their own place in this new frontier.

For all their diversity, the one thing ISDC attendees had in common was they are ready to go, to pack their bags, climb on a rocket, and settle that new frontier in space. But it is much more than a dream, this group is about making human settlements in space a reality.

Some of the foremost thinkers in the industry were there to educate, motivate, and variously pave the way. The place was buzzing after XCOR's Jeff Greason took the podioum -- his presentation is now posted on the NSS website.

To much applause, Robert Bigelow, Founder and President of Bigelow Aerospace received the National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Space Development for his efforts to advance the technology of space habitats and for the significance they may play in the development of space tourism, industry and exploration. Check out their site for more.

On the home front though, with ongoing layoffs, aerospace times in Huntsville have been hard (at best). Huntsville Space Professionals, a local non-profit collaborative effort between Chris McLemore, Regina Garson and Andrew Sutinen worked with Next Step in Space to host and coordinate the ISDC Job Fair.

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was greeted with much excitement at the job fair, but was also the recipient of NSS’s 2011 Pioneer Award for Business Entrepreneur.

Another highlight was when Dr. Junichiro Kawaguchi of the Hayabusa Team, JAXA of Japan took the stage to talk about their work and receive the 8th Biennial Werhnher von Braun Memorial Award. NHK of New York traveled in to cover the story.

Looking to the future, there were the students. They came from around the world to participate in the NSS NASA Space Settlement Contest. This is a yearly contest sponsored by NASA Ames and the National Space Society (NSS). Geared toward 6-12th graders, there is an eight week, US Science Curriculum Standards based course, which is provided at no cost to teachers. Participation is open and international interest in the competition was evident. The winning team was from Punjab, India.

At the conclusion looking forward, Leahy commented, "If you take the time to listen and engage with what's going on, the hallway conversations are every bit as interesting as what's being presented in the panels and workshops. It changed my life 14 years ago, and the hope of any ISDC chair is that similar things happen for their participants." And so the dream continues.

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Copyright 2011 Regina Garson. All rights reserved.

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