Sunday, June 28, 2009

ApolloCon 2009

Kim Kofmel, ApolloCon chair, doesn't do formal wear. At her husband's suggestion to dress up for the opening ceremony, she upgraded her trademark hat to a gold-embroidered one. Kim reminded us that the year 2009 is the 40th anniversary of Lunar landing. She is old enough to have watched it on a very small black and white television. As a small child, she was nevertheless aware that this is something that never happened before, but will happen more. Even now she still believes it will happen more.

This being Houston, every other fan at this convention appears to have a connection to NASA. The most prominent example was, of course, ApolloCon special guest, astronaut Stanley Love. The rest of the congoers have never escaped Earth's gravity, but some of them are friends with astronauts, and they have second-hand stories from space to tell. According to one such person, astronauts in space can't really see billions of stars (contrary to popular imagination). The reason is "too much light", she said. Why didn't they dim the cabin lights, somebody in the audience quipped. It's not the lights inside the space station that obscure the stars, the woman explained. It's the Earth light. Also, astronauts get used to lack of gravity surprisingly fast; when her friend the astronaut brushed her hair the first few times after coming back to Earth, she was surprised that the brush fell on the floor when she let go of it. The expectation that the brush will float developed after spending as little as two weeks in space.

Rocket Science or Rocket Fantasy

The "Rocket Science or Rocket Fantasy" panel blurb said: "Why yes, it IS rocket science... Maybe. Panelists discuss the accuracy of rocket science as represented in sf books, TV and movies." Inaccuracy in portrayal of space flight in movies and books often comes from wanting to glamorize it to fit a Hollywood plot formula. So for example, in a typical movie Columbia shuttle would not have broken up. After discovering that pieces of insulating foam had broken off the shuttle, a Hollywood version of NASA would not have concluded that there's not much anyone can do about it. In a movie, astronauts would have performed a spacewalk, patched up the shuttle and returned safely to Earth. The latter is rocket fantasy, the former is rocket science.

Pictures from ApolloCon 2009 can be found in my photo gallery.

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