“Would you like a baloney sandwich?” the elderly lady said as she held out a neatly cling film wrapped sandwich, in her other hand a plate of more of the same. Behind her along the pavement, or sidewalk as they say here in the US, the sandwich lady’s friends held up their signs that read, ‘beware the military industrial complex’.
Watching the small group of protestors intently were the security guards for the
With an anti-space warfare leaflet thrust into my hand I nodded to security guards as I wandered into the centre and they eyed the baloney sandwiches suspiciously.
For the next three and a bit days I’d be surrounded by the executives of the military-space-industrial complex, and a nice bunch of people they are!
The agenda would see speeches from the head of NASA, Michael Griffin; his deputy Shana Dale; the deputy head of the China National Space Administration Luo Ge; the head of the US Air Force Space Command; members of Congress; plenary sessions on human and robotic exploration, space and national security, research and development, investor relations; and numerous receptions and even fireworks.
Meeting Luo Ge was certainly a highlight and the journalists with me were literally sitting on the edge of their seats, leaning forward hanging on every translated word of this man from the closed society that is Communist China.
For much of my conference I was seeing people who I speak to on the phone a great deal, the public relations managers of that military-industrial complex and their senior executives – many of whom are former astronauts.
I had breakfast with Brewster Shaw one day and a 30min interview with Stephen Oswald on another; both of whom had multiple Shuttle missions behind them and had been Shuttle pilots and mission commanders.
From the Raytheon dinner with the whooping former US Air Force general to the high class salesman that is X Prize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis you get to know the people that make major decisions about missile defence, spy satellites, space probes, telecommunications constellations and human spaceflight.
Along with the silly journo banter in the media centre these conferences are long days, up at 6am for the breakfast briefings with test pilots turned astronauts, back to the hotel at 11pm after the corporate dinners – during all of which you play mental chess with these chief executives and vice presidents intent on ‘communicating their message’ while you try to prize from them the key facts that are the real decision drivers.
But on a sort of lighter note there was also the General James E. Hill Lifetime space Achievement award and this year’s recipient was astronaut and Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin.
I’d had the opportunity to meet the second man on the Moon about five times over the two plus years I’ve been with Flight International. Once was even a chance encounter at the European Space Agency (ESA). As I was walking into the offices of exploration chief Daniel Sacotte, Buzz was walking out.
In a ballroom at the Broadmoor I patiently waited for Buzz’s many admirers to file by, after his speech in which he talked candidly about his alcoholism, his mother’s suicide and his regrets that the “early astronauts” (as he called the Apollo, Gemini and Mercury crowd) didn’t have reunions like his USAF buddies.
Eventually I got to meet the man photographed so famously by his fellow Moon walker Neil Armstrong; but from the start things didn’t quite go as expected.
“Dr Aldrin, with your experience of going to the Moon is NASA talking to you and your Apollo colleagues about what they need to do to return to the Moon?”
“Look once a decision is made there isn’t any point arguing with it.”
“Eh, ok, what perhaps would you tell today’s lunar lander designers, what should they do differently to Apollo, perhaps the way the EVA hatch opens.”
“Look who goes out first isn’t the issue”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean that, I mean with your experience of lunar operations…”
“Look these guys know more, they know what they’re doing.”
Buzz was on transmit, he has his script down pat and nothing was going to divert him from it.
But with the interview at an end, as far as I was concerned, Buzz still seemed to want to talk and on his script went with the well practised smile and gestures.
I began to feel bored and I think Buzz realized it, without a word he stopped talking and turned and walked away and after five wasted minutes I knew I didn’t have to listen to that waffle anymore.
Readers might be surprised, or even shocked by this, but now having met Buzz, if I had had to spend days on a Moon mission with him with all the stress involved, I’d never want to see him again either.
“Sir! Stay on the sidewalk!” a security guard hollered as I stepped into the road outside the conference centre. What was his problem? No more protestors to keep a beady eye on?
As I walked, on the sidewalk, to catch the complimentary bus care of ITT to get back to my hotel I reflected on the conference.
Did I want a baloney sandwich? Sure, if with it you get personal communications anywhere on the planet; the ability to know your exact location; advanced military technology with dual use benefits for the wider society; personal spaceflight and an understanding of how our home world sustains life and how our solar system’s other planets don’t.