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The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The 65th International Astronautical Congress

Welcome back, space fans! Today's post is about the 2014 International Astronautical Congress (IAC) which I had the privilege to attend! The 65th of its kind, the IAC is an annual event bringing together space enthusiasts and professionals from all around the world. I had an incredible week and here is a synopsis of what followed.

This year's IAC was in Toronto, Canada which was fortuitous for me. Toronto has been my home for years so not only do I know my way around, but I have many friends in the area who were able to help me out with accommodations and such. Before arriving, I sent a simple guide to my fellow ISU colleagues about Toronto, how to get around, what to see, etc.

The IAC began with an opening ceremony in the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. The ceremony was emceed by Canadian astronauts Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques who were quite entertaining. Their unique contribution included a "field guide" to the different types of professionals we may encounter during the congress including, but not limited to: entrepreneurs, academics, enthusiasts, and retired. Upon mention of this last category, they showed a picture of Chris Hadfield and warned us that these guys always have a story to tell and love to tell it. The opening ceremony also included two performances from Cirque du Soleil, a musical number showing the range of cultures in Canada, and introductory words from many of the hosts and professional companies present.

After this, my fellow ISU colleagues and I walked over to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where we completed our registration. There were over 3100 registered attendees of this conference and, thanks to the many companies who sponsored this event, we all received an IAC 2014 pin, a pocket programme, an extensive programme, a DVD of the presentations/projects, and a satchel which proved quite handy.

I had been waiting with anticipation for this event for quite some time. Learning about the IAC this year at the ISU, it was actually part of our curriculum to submit an abstract from our team project. More information on our team project can be found here: One Way Human Missions to Mars and here, Mars NOW. Seeing this as a good opportunity, I also submitted an abstract from my individual work on galactic cosmic radiation. To my excitement, both projects were accepted for the conference, and a final paper and presentation for each were drafted specifically for the event.

This was to be an incredible networking event, as well as a chance to learn more about the industry and the players within it. Thanks to the help of a few more graphically-artistic people, I had some business cards made up, as can be seen below. Apologies for the poor photography, that skill is a work in progress.

The design concept for the business cards was to present something simple, which could be used for people to get in contact with me, as well as provide ample space to write additional information. While my first name is unique and simple enough, my last name is not (to most people), so I wanted to provide many ways (including this website) for people to find out more about me! It was very exciting for me to see those initials after my name; another reminder of how far I've come in the last few years.

Customizing my look, as always, I replaced the simple strap for the IAC-provided satchel with my Star Wars Chewbacca one, added some pins depicting the ISS, Sputnik, Star Trek, and the IAC, and donned my vest and pocket watch. I wanted to meet people and stand out from all the rest.

The conference, or congress, was a very busy event, and I ended most days feeling exhausted. There was a main exhibition floor full of representatives from every space company I had ever heard of, and many, many more of which I hadn't previously known. I visited all of them, handing out and receiving business cards, and trying to make opportunities for myself in the near future.

There was an ample amount of free food and drink, especially since many areas were vying to host the IAC in 2017. Each night, a different area was hosting a small event for this purpose; handing out pins, patches, stickers, beer, and wine.

Concurrently, technical sessions were running continuously in the many rooms adjacent. There were sessions on:
  • Space exploration
  • Space science
  • Space life sciences
  • Space debris
  • Applications and operations
  • Earth observation
  • Space communication and navigation
  • Integrated applications
  • Technology
  • Astrodynamics
  • Space propulsion
  • Infrastructure
  • Space systems
  • Space transportation
  • Space and society
  • Space education and outreach
  • Space policy, regulations and economics
  • Space law
It was a difficult task to see everything, but I made the best of it. Several of my ISU colleagues were presenting their work throughout the week, so we all added this to our schedules, and I did my best to learn more about each session in which I was interested and hop from room to room based on the work I found most interesting. Thankfully, many of the presentations and papers were included on the DVD, so I knew that I could catch up later on anything I missed.

There were also some plenary panels, discussions hosted by special speakers speaking on a variety of topics. There was the "heads of space agencies" plenary featuring the heads of the Canadian, Mexican, Japanese, European, and United States of American space agencies. This plenary discussed their individual agency's vision as well as their role in international cooperation. There was also a plenary on diversity in space, breaking news from the Rosetta and India's Mars orbital mission, and a Next Generation plenary discussing innovative ideas presented by young professionals.

I found this last plenary quite interesting. It was moderated by Chris Hadfield who did a great job of coordinating the event, and the speakers all had interesting projects including 3D printed drones, software/hardware which could be used for turning your computer into a simple ground station, an artificial intestine design for a spacecraft's radiation shielding, and the possible application of cold plasma for killing bacteria and healing skin.

These last two projects really excited me! I see radiation shielding as the next greatest technical challenge for maintaining a long-term deep-space human presence so I am always interested in learning more about ideas and developments in this field. The cold plasma project almost made me jump up in my seat.

In Star Trek, a common treatment for cuts, burns, and such often includes running a tool along the surface of the skin and watching the area "magically" healing itself. It's fiction, of course, or is it? Plasma is a field of charged particles, or ions, and is often as hot as it is energetic. However, cold plasma, used in things such as energy-saving light bulbs, can be touched relatively safely. Recent investigation into the uses of this plasma revealed that bacteria seem to die immediately upon contact with it, and that the growth/development of skin cells ranges in 10-25% greater than normal. If this work continues to prove promising, it might prove incredibly beneficial for medical science and we may see new tools used to decontaminate and heal people.

One other plenary interested me quite personally. It was a discussion on engaging the stakeholder, and how to get people interested in and involved with the space industry. I found some of the ideas interesting, but I also found them limited. I have been actively interested in the space industry my entire life, but I have seen few connections, fewer opportunities, and few attempts to engage people in this industry in Canada. I will discuss this in a later post, but the short story is that I asked questions, and directly approached the panel after the event. Admitting that I had good ideas, I was asked for my business card and was subsequently followed up with asking for ideas for engaging the public and young professional communities with space.

My presentation went well, although I was more nervous than I should have been. I believe this was because I was worried that my ideas were too cursory, too top-level, as I was simply, but thoroughly, discussing the findings on galactic cosmic radiation. However, it went well, and was well-received. I discussed the topic with several other researchers and have a few contacts with whom I plan to follow up concerning their work and future opportunities.

The Mars NOW project was well presented by our other project manager, Robert Terlevic. The topic inspired many questions and they were handled well. Afterward, I enjoyed acting as an answer envoy either answering some of the after-presentation questions myself or directing them to those in our project who were available and had more expertise in the subject matter.

The end of the IAC was a time of departure, as my ISU colleagues would be going back home, and thus far away from each other. Hugs were given, pictures were taken, and we all vowed to keep in touch and try to reunite at the 2017 IAC in Australia. I am confident that I will see them all again and that each of my colleagues from the ISU will go on to do great things in this industry.

The IAC was a great event for connecting in the industry. It provided an opportunity for people to come together and share ideas and inspire new ideas and innovation. One week after the conference began, I am finally caught up on emails and am beginning to look through my business cards and the DVD to see if I can find out more about this industry and my place within it.

Should you be interested in space, and have ideas and work you'd like to contribute, I urge you to check out the International Astronautical Federation, as well as my next post which will include more information on the space societies specifically in Canada.

Thank you for reading, and whatever you're doing today, I hope you're doing it for yourself and the good of those around you, and I hope you continue moving toward your long-term goals!

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