The 33rd International Space Development Conference

Commentary by Mike Mackowski

I attended the 33rd International Space Development Conference from May 14-18, held in Los Angeles, CA. This is only the second ISDC I have been to since the early 1990s, when I was able to attend more frequently (I went to the Tucson event held in 2000). In that time a lot of progress has been made in the development of space, but a lot of things are still the same.

This was a great conference from the perspective of being able to hear speakers offering the latest status and plans for all sorts of space exploration, business, and infrastructure initiatives. There were many “big names” from the space arena, including Buzz Aldrin, Elon Musk (SpaceX), Jeff Greason (XCOR), astronauts (Richard Garriott, Chris Ferguson, Rick Searfoss, etc.), engineers and scientists (Dr. John Lewis, John Mankins, Geoffrey Notkin), and folks from the NewSpace community (Rick Tumlinson, Will Pomerantz, Taber McCallum, Art Dula, etc.). If anything, the conference was too big with too many tracks. Most days had seven or more parallel tracks. For someone like me who does not attend on a regular basis, and hopes to get some first hand updates on progress in these areas, you really have to pick and chose what sessions to attend. I thought there was some “fluff” that could have been eliminated to make things simpler (do we really need sessions on “Humans, Exponential Perception, Compassion, and the Universe”?).

On the plus side, I was pleased to hear first-hand updates on such subjects as XCOR’s Lynx suborbital vehicle, space elevators, space solar power, utilization of space resources, and approaches to building affordable space infrastructure. There seems to be a consensus in this space community that a flexible infrastructure is needed more than a focussed development program aimed at a specific destination (say, Mars). By developing elements that can be used by all of these goals (Moon, Mars, asteroids, etc.) it is more likely that a sustainable space economy will actually occur.

Over the past few years there seems to have been a debate over NASA’s future plans. Should they develop the advanced technology we need to make space exploration and development less costly and more effective (infrastructure), or should they pick a destination and develop just the technology needed for that specific goal? Most people at this conference were promoting the infrastructure path, which makes sense to me as well. The problem is that this is difficult to sell. It is much easier to get excited about sending a crew to Mars (or wherever) than designing a propellant depot at L2. Critics say NASA needs specific goals, but achieving those goals might come cheaper (and safer?) if we are patient and develop the elements we need to achieve any of the possible goals first, and even better if we can do it via commercial programs rather than via government-owned assets.

The main disappointment I had at the conference was the lack of sessions on grass roots space advocacy. The membership of NSS is declining and aging. Many speakers encouraged us to get the word out to the general public about the exciting future of space exploration and development. This means grass roots, local level advocacy. There should have been sessions on doing small local conferences, how to work with schools, how to attract young members, how to find media contacts, how to write press releases, what to say to your Congressional representatives, etc. There were no formal sessions on this.

The advantage of attending a conference like this in person (as compared to reading the presentations on line), however, is that you get to network with other like-minded advocates. Socializing at meal functions, between sessions, and at the Chapters Assembly meeting allowed me to meet many other NSS chapter activists. We were able to swap some ideas and propose new ones. This, more than anything,made attending this conference worth the effort and expense.

Yuri’s Night 2014


On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth. To celebrate the anniversary of this milestone in space exploration, the Phoenix aerospace community is having a Yuri’s Night event on Saturday, April 12, 2014. This will be a fun evening of entertainment, food, and and socializing.

For the past few years, the Phoenix chapters of the National Space Society and the Moon Society have held a Yuri’s Night event in conjunction with the Space Access conference. That conference is not occuring this year, so we are all joining up with the YN event hosted by the ASU chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). The event will be free and open to everyone. No advanced registration is required. You can sign up on the event’s Facebook page ( if you want.

The fun starts at 7 pm and will be held at the ISTB-4 building on the east side of the campus. Parking is available at the surface lot immediately south of the building or the Rural Road parking garage just east of ISTB-4. Parking is generally free on weekends in these lots.

This primary sponsor of this event is the ASU chapter of SEDs, with with additional support provided by the Phoenix Section of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the local chapters of the National Space Society and the Moon Society.

For more info on the international YN movement, see


The SEDS SpaceVision Conference


I attended the SpaceVision conference (put on by the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space – SEDS) which was held at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, Nov. 7-10, 2013. One of my roles was to represent NSS, as we were provided a display table in the lobby of the building where most of the activities occurred. The Tucson chapter (Al Anzaldua) provided a banner while Phoenix chapter member Chuck Lesher provided a nice color poster we used on the table top. Our stash of stickers, a box Ad Astra magazines from the national office, plus simple membership forms we made, were handed out at the table. About 200 color trifold membership flyers were provided to attendees in their registration bag.

NSS Regional Director Christopher Carson came and staffed the table for much of the conference. I was on one of the panels and had two other groups to represent so I could not be there continuously. He was planning to talk to the SEDS leadership about renewing the MOU between SEDS and NSS re a free first year membership in NSS. I expect a report from Chris soon. Phoenix chapter member Pat Lonchar came Saturday and staffed the table and attended the banquet (using tickets I got from Orbital Sciences).

Over 300 people attended the four day conference. I was there for parts of three days including the opening keynote presentations on Thursday evening. The event chair, John Conafay, gave a great opening speech. Jim Bell, an ASU professor who is president of the Planetary Society, introduced the keynote speaker. The keynote was given by science educator (and Planetary Society CEO) Bill Nye. He gave an entertaining, inspiring talk with a lot of emphasis on climate change and space exploration. A key message to students was to get involved (vote). The students (who probably grew up watching him on TV) treat him as somewhat of a “rock star”.

I was able to attend a number of presentations, including one by James Pura of the Space Frontier Foundation (I also attended a couple of Rick Tumlinson’s talks). Pura discussed some of the projects of the SFF. Although they are not really a membership organization, they seemed to be in a recruiting mode at the conference. They are more of a policy-making/pushing organization with a focus on space settlement and the frontier paradigm, rather than a grass-roots organization focused on near-term projects. They are decidedly “free enterprise” supporters suspicious of government directed and operated space programs.

They have a number of interesting projects. One of them picked up the old Teachers in Space effort and they are implementing that in new ways.

Pura showed the “There is Another Way” video which makes a lot of sense in some ways, but still requires a very expensive development of space infrastructure that does not currently exist. They claim to have details on the financial analysis of this concept, but on the surface it seems wildly optimistic. Personally, I would need to look at it in more detail.

If SFF can appeal to SEDS members with little to offer re local networking opportunities, why shouldn’t NSS or the Moon Society be an attractive group to join as these students leave school? I would recommend that the national level NSS leadership engage in a stronger presence at future SEDS events. But I think groups like SEDS and this sort of event demonstrates that there is a lot of passion for space amongst folks under the age of 25.

The 2013 Space Access Conference

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

Part One – The Conference

Space Access 2013I finally had the opportunity to attend the Space Access Conference, an event run by Henry Vanderbilt, a long-time space advocate from Phoenix. The conference’s focus is on “New Space” launch vehicle developers and the burgeoning suborbital market. I had been aware of this conference for some time, and despite that it is held in my home town, the conference content and my personal or business interests never overlapped sufficiently to motivate me to take time off work and attend. This year, things were quiet at work and I decided to see what it was all about.

The conference ran for three days (April 11-13) and I attended most of the first two. The nice thing about the program is that Henry limits it to a single thread so you don’t have to choose between parallel sessions. There was an interesting mix of speakers. Most were related to launch vehicles but there was also a good mix of astronomy (asteroids), history (DC-X), and far term concepts (space settlements).

The rocketry presentations were on varied levels. Some were from the more well-known companies like XCOR, while quite a few were folks doing this as a hobby or as students, some barely a step above high-powered hobbyist rocketry.

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Progress for Space Tourism

New Mexico Governor Signs Spaceport Liability Legislation Into Law

Spaceport America

The AP (4/3, Clausing) reports, “Gov. Susana Martinez on Tuesday signed into law liability-waiving legislation aimed at saving the state’s nearly quarter-billion-dollar investment in a futuristic spaceport and retaining its anchor tenant, British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.”

Martinez said the new law shows the state is “not only reaffirming the major commitment New Mexicans have made to Spaceport America but we now have an even stronger opportunity to grow the number of commercial space jobs at the spaceport and across our state. This legislation will prevent lawsuit abuse and make it easier for businesses related to the space travel industry to thrive and succeed right here in New Mexico.”  The article notes that previously Virgin Galactic had protested its rent payments and had threatened to leave if the law was not passed.  In a statement yesterday, Virgin Galactic said it was always committed to the project but now more needs to be done to bring other customers to the spaceport.

International Space Development Conference

May 23-27, 2013


The 32nd International Space Development Conference, to be held at the La Jolla Hyatt Regency, San Diego, California, May 23-27, 2013. Speakers at the ISDC will discuss many breakthroughs happening in space development. ISDC 2013 will showcase the latest developments, promote new ideas, and prove fertile ground for collaboration and innovation.

The conference theme is “Global Collaboration in 21st Century Space.” This is the century we break free of the gravity that has limited our ability to colonize space. We will learn how to collaborate effectively in a global, soon to be multi-planetary community. ISDC promises to be the place where 21st century skills are developed for 21st century space.
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New Survey on Government Spending May Actually have Good News for Space Advocates

Commentary by Michael Mackowski


The results of a survey on government spending were released recently and reported in an Associated Press article on March 8. The General Social Survey asked people whether they believe government spending in specific categories is “too much,” “too little” or “about right.” The survey was performed by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago with principal funding from the National Science Foundation. Using an index based on the difference between the “too much” and “too little” responses, the public’s view on various categories were graded between plus and minus 100, where high values mean more funds should be provided, while negative values indicated the public thinks too much is already being spent in that area.

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