As a practicing introvert, I don’t make a big habit of getting out into public for large parties. Once a year, I make an exception for Yuri’s Night. For the uninitiated, Yuri’s Night is an excuse for space geeks and other space-interested folks to get together and celebrate the anniversary of the first human to fly into space, Yuri Gagarin. The brainchild of Loretta Hidalgo (now Hidalgo Whitesides), whose birthday is April 12, the original concept was sold as a “Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day for space geeks.” The concept went viral quickly, with the “official” site (Loretta’s, of course) providing logos, selling t-shirts, sharing party sites, and offering tips for setting up one’s own festival.
What exactly happens at a Yuri’s Night party? Truth be told, it varies. Some folks show up in space- or science fiction-related costumes. Some folks plaster Yuri Gagarin temporary tattoos on their bodies, like my buddy Laura Seward Forczyk.
What else happens? Well, space people show up just to hang around other space people. And by space people, I guess I mean those of us who are fascinated by space exploration or even actually work in the space industry–NASA, military, or private sector. Depending on the dedication, organization, and resources of the people involved, It can be a party in a bar, which is what we did for the first Yuri’s Night in Huntsville (thanks to Laura for reminding me! And yes, that’s me in the Hoban Washburne shirt below)…
…to a full-blown invasion of the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville…The point being, hey, it’s an excuse to party, have fun, be a tad silly, and hang out with people who share a common interest in, and love for, space exploration. Is there drinking? Certainly. Par for the course, I suppose. But the point isn’t just drinking, like other holiday gatherings I could name. And sometimes you can even do a little good. I recall that at least one of the Huntsville events raised money for Court Appointed Juvenile Advocates (CAJA). These are “my people,” so of course I join in, even if it gets a little loud at times.
I always learn something or talk to interesting people at Yuri’s Night. This year, one of my interesting talks included Chris Lewicki, CEO of Planetary Resources, who was in Florida because his company’s Arkyd 3R satellite was about to be launched to the International Space Station. From ISS, it will be launched into a low-Earth orbit from the Kibo science module. Once in its proper orbit, it will test technologies that will eventually lead to an asteroid-detecting and -prospecting spacecraft.
Another worthwhile chat I had was with Gabriel Rothblatt, a lawyer and space advocate who recently ran for Congress in Florida’s 8th District (the Space Coast, of course!). His big interest when we talked was in streamlining the process for commercial space companies that want to launch their rockets out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). He’s advocating for a “Port Authority” sort of structure, where the actual Port of Cape Canaveral would also have launch approval authority–from cruise ships to space ships!–and any potential launch customers would only have to go through one set of red tape to get approvals.
For instance, if SpaceX wants to launch off of Launch Complex 39A, they have to get approvals from NASA for use of the facilities but also from the U.S. Air Force, which maintains the Eastern Range off the Florida coast. A Port Authority for the Space Coast would maintain its existing facilities plus a few of the launch pads at CCAFS, which would be converted to commercial use. It would be the Port Authority’s job to centralize approvals so that a launch customer would only have to go through one round of red tape instead of two or more.
Rothblatt was also interested in some of the “singularity” technologies, including nanotechnology. Nanotech, theoretically, could extend life spans by providing people with molecule-sized robots in their bloodstreams that would kill things like cancer, clear out cholesterol, etc. Why get interested in longevity? Aside from extending life spans, it could change the dynamics of space investments. Rothblatt reasons that if people were living 150-200 years instead of 70-100, they might be more willing to invest in ventures such as space settlements, which will take decades beyond the usual planning (or investing…or even thinking) horizons of most people alive today.
A third cause Rothblatt advocates for is space settlement. “Fifty years ago, we had to send humans,” he said. “The computers weren’t that good or that fast. Now they’re getting to the point where they can most of the basic things without the need for humans. Space settlement is the only compelling reason to send humans into space” long-term. It’s hard to argue. Settlements mean families, communities, businesses, cultures, and all the things that (so far) only humans do. A lot of what he was saying sounded familiar, so I asked if he’d been talking with Rick Tumlinson. Indeed he had, which was why he was talking to Tumlinson’s New Worlds Institute about space settlement.
There are exciting things happening in the space business. It’s not quite that NASA-centric vision that America had in the 1960s, but a lot of our rapidly developing technologies are making space more democratized and, eventually, more accessible. And perhaps, more hopefully, dedicated individuals are willing to run for Congress to promote a technologically promising future. It’s that sort of thinking that makes even an introverted space geek like me happy he goes to a loud party once a year.