Monday, March 9, 2015

Having Fun (and Freezing) with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation

Now we come to the catalyst for this blog: the awesomeness of the space adventures that I am privileged to have. It builds up in my head and craves release into the world. These marvelous experiences are too good to keep to myself. My life isn't as glorious as an EVA-performing astronaut or as glamerous as a VIP who hobnobs with celebrities. My position in this world is a small one. The opportunities that I'm given aren't grand, but they inspire me and give me great joy, and maybe they'll inspire others as well.

Last week, I had a pleasure of attending my first Commercial Spaceflight Federation members meeting as a representative of my company. I am in love! I knew a little bit about CSF from what I had read in the news, on their website, from a suborbital spaceflight conference loosely connected, and from astronaut and former head Mike L-A's own mouth. I didn't know much, but was interested and excited to get involved.

Monday evening, the improbable happened. I've taken far too many mathematics classes in my higher education, but I don't know what the odds are. I usually book my own travel, but this time I used a travel agent. I picked my flight out of Orlando to Washington Reagan based on the flight time. I'm a window seater, loving to stare out at our beautiful planet endlessly, but the travel agent booked me an aisle seat. Who should sit next to me in the seat across the aisle but one of my colleagues from a partner institution who I didn't even know was attending the meeting! Of all of the flights from MCO to DCA and all of the seats on the plane, we ended up next to each other. A friendly face to chat with was a great way to pass the time on the flight!

My boss and I attended a CSF meet-and-greet on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with four scheduled and one unscheduled congressmen. The room was packed with a few faces I knew, but most I did not, so I set out to make some new acquaintances. People were curious about my company and I'm curious about everything, so much business was discussed. I had a few “small world” moments; this is a small industry, after all. The congressmen were always surrounded by people so I never got to directly talk with them, but I enjoyed talking to those on the periphery.

To throw a bit of comedy in the mix, my boss and I had parked in a two hour parking spot that was set to expire a few minutes before the event was scheduled to end. We were all set to leave at 15 minutes prior to the end, in the hallway with our winter coats on, when we heard clapping. Speeches! We hung by the doorway in our coats, hoping no one would notice as we listened, parking tickets in the back of our mind. The unscheduled congressman entered, Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California, who I had escorted and had breakfast with at a conference two years ago. I couldn't greet him properly with the rush to get to our car, but I did shake his hand and thank him for his support, not knowing if he remembered me.

Dinner that night was lovely and even more packed. I saw a few more familiar faces and met several more new. I'll admit to a tiny bit of claustrophobia (yes, I want to be an astronaut, but it has more to do with discomfort with the noise and bustling of crowds), so I stayed near the edges of the room before we were all seated at tables. Standing by the drinks is a pretty good way to see a rotation of people.

I had heard Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico speak during my last visit to Washington, D.C. last summer, but I didn't remember him speaking as well then as he did Tuesday night. Inspirational! Representative Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania was born in Philadelphia and gave a Philly shout-out, and I was tempted to give a “woot woot” response having been born in Philly and raised in a suburbs myself, but I restrained myself.

Never one to leave a party early, when the venue staff shooed us out of the ballroom, a group of us congregated elsewhere to continue conversations. A consequence of men's fashion being so uniform, someone had mistakenly grabbed my boss's coat from the coat rack with his car keys inside! We searched every dark coat draped over chairs and on tables. I was sure that it was a lost cause. Miraculously, the lost coat was recovered and the night was saved! I opted for a taxi to stay a little later. I had forgotten from when I met Jeff Feige of Orbital Outfitters previously: if you ever get a chance, listen to his stories. The man is a hilarious storyteller.

Normally I'm not one for excessively long meetings, but Wednesday's nearly nonstop 7 hour meeting was fantastic for me. Call it newcomer enthusiasm. I opened my laptop to take notes and ended up with four typed pages by the end. I was in observer mode, soaking up information like a sponge. It's a good thing that I keep up with industry news because we covered so many topics in such depth that I could have easily been lost. I'm nowhere near proficient, but thankfully I could follow. After a little study-up, I should even be able to contribute.

As previously discussed, I'm an avid Twitter follower for space news throughout the day. I'm also a decently good multitasker. When I wasn't taking notes, I most often had Twitter open, refreshing the day's tweets. Charlie Bolden was giving testimony at a House Appropriation hearing. Guys, I am so much of a space policy geek that I watch space-related congressional hearings live when I can, such as two the previous week. But when I can't watch live, I follow the tweets.

Fellow Twitter junkie Alan Stern was sitting next to me, and I spied him tweeting as well, so I knew that he wasn't judging. But I internally jumped when I heard Jeff Greason's voice behind me (I hadn't known that he was directly behind me!) and hoped that he wasn't judging. I just met the man and I'm a fan; I don't want to soil his impression of me. I can follow CSF discussions and hear the NASA Administrator admit what I guessed when I still worked for CASIS – that the International Space Station would need to be abandoned if Russia backs out – at the same time.

I'm still absorbing and processing all of the information that I gathered and learned during the short trip. It will take some time before I'm up-to-speed enough to be able to contribute in any meaningful way. I look forward to the challenge and the next CSF event!

I'm also glad to be back in Florida where the weather was 85 degrees on Thursday, the day of the blizzard up north. Give me the heat of Florida summers over the cold of northeast winters any day.

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