Friday, April 29, 2016

Next Generation Inspired by Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference

A decade ago as a senior just before graduating with my bachelor's degree, I attended my first conference. I've been loving conferences ever since. But my absolute favorite is the Next-generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC). I've been to every NSRC ever held thus far. I'm delighted that the streak continues and I'll be attending this year's NSRC in Broomfield, Colorado from June 2 – 4. I'm so excited I can hardly wait!

NSRC began in 2010 in Boulder, Colorado. I was a graduate student in my second month at a new university pursuing my doctorate in planetary science. My grad advisor, Josh Colwell, was one of the organizers of the conference along with Alan Stern, the man of many hats. Attendance exceeded expectations. Speakers included Lori Garver, Pete Worden, George Nield, Jeff Greason, and Rick Searfoss. SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, XCOR, and Masten were present, among others. Research topics included spectroscopy, solar observations, vulcanoids, suborbital observatories, and regolith dynamics.

Posing with Virgin Galactic's model spaceplane. - NSRC 2010

Being so new to the commercial space industry, I really felt inspired by NSRC. This conference came at an important time for me, right after President Obama's FY2011 budget request and the cancellation of the Constellation program when I felt hopeless about the future of spaceflight. I wrote, “This conference gave me a true sense of belonging among people such as these. I feel like the doors are open to me wider than I realized before. I am very optimistic about my future and the future of the space industry. The dream is still alive!”

I was personally involved in NSRC 2011, hosted by my advisor Josh at my university in Orlando, Florida. I was the volunteer coordinator, recruiting and organizing 40 student volunteers helping to make the conference happen. I was even interviewed by a local news station.

Spreading the love of space on TV - NSRC 2011

This second conference was just as magical as the first. I wrote, “I remember feeling this way during the first NSRC last year in Boulder: energized, passionate, enthusiastic, optimistic, and grateful. All of those feelings came flooding back to me today at the start of NSRC 2011.” Speakers not already mentioned included George Whitesides, Robert Braun, Frank DiBello, David McBride, David Masten, Keith Cowing, and Eric Seedhouse. Even more microgravity research was presented than the year before.

NSRC 2012 was in Palo Alto, California. It was there that I met Neil Armstrong after his talk about suborbital spaceflight history. I am forever grateful that I got to shake his hand before he was gone! XCOR gave away a free Lynx ride to a lucky winner. Speakers not already mentioned included June Scobee Rodgers, Andrew Nelson, William Pomerantz, Carissa Christensen, Rand Simberg, and Jeff Foust. One thing that struck me was the diversity of microgravity research presented compared to previous years. So much science!

Meeting Neil Armstrong, first man on the Moon - NSRC 2012
Prototype future spacesuit helmet - NSRC 2012

NSRC 2013 was back in Colorado, this time Broomfield just outside of Boulder. One of the first things I did upon arriving was climb into a lifesize model of the XCOR Lynx and pretend to fly. I had just started my new job at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space three months prior and I gave my first public CASIS talk at the conference. Speakers not previously mentioned included Charlie Walker, Mike Lopez-Alegria, Scott Parazynski, Stu Witt, Wayne Hale, Mike Suffredini, Mark Sirangelo, and Jane Poynter.

Flying the XCOR Lynx - NSRC 2013
Where will Alan Stern fly us to in this Lynx ride among the stars? - NSRC 2013

I raced my friend Ryan Kobrick in assembling Lego Lynx models (he won, just barely). I sang Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody with a table full of inebriated professionals. I stayed up really, really late chatting about space with other like-minded dreamers. I wrote, “I really can't believe that all of this is happening to me. NSRC is the best conference ever.”

Legos! - NSRC 2013

And now, NSRC is back after a 3 year hiatus! Originally planned to be an every-18-months conference from 2012 onward, the fifth NSRC was delayed until enough progress in the industry justified the meeting. I'm looking forward to hearing from researchers, flight providers, and everyone else involved! Speakers not previously mentioned include Alan Eustace, Steve Jurczyk, David Miller, John Olson, Jason Reimuller, and Steve Collicott. I'm looking forward to seeing old colleagues and meeting news ones!

And what's sure to convince everyone that I'm crazy, I'll be attending with a baby. This will be a challenge, for sure, but I'm up for it!

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