This week I had the pleasure of attending the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop 2013 (TVIW) which, despite the name, was actually held in Huntsville Alabama. This was coincidentally the location of the Advanced Space Propulsion Workshop that I attended just a few months earlier.
TVIW 2013 is the second meeting of a group that kicked this off last year and lead by Les Johnson, author of ‘Going Interstellar’ for which I contributed a chapter. Les is also Deputy Manager for the Advanced Concepts Office at the NASA George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. It was great to see this group gather momentum and grow, and I noted approximately 50% more people attending this years workshop. Something else that marked a sign of the times was the fact that this years workshop was streamed live to the internet via a service called ustream. You can see the TVIW recorded streams here.
I arrived on Sunday evening and enjoyed meeting a number of Icarii who were also attending the event. These were; Rob Adams, Robert Freeland, Milos Stanic, Tabitha Smith, Gwyn Rosaire, Andreas Hein, Rob Swinney, Kelvin Long, Mike Mongo, Richard Hatcher and Paul Gilster. A number of us enjoyed a Mexican dinner at Chipotle then returned to the hotel where TVIW hosts Robert Kennedy and Eric Huges hosted a get together and treated us to a stunning cocktail they had invented called an Alpha Centauri Sunrise.
Day 1 of the event began with astronaut Jan Davis discussing some of her experiences as an astronaut, and showing support for interstellar flight. Her last slide encouraged the community to continue research on breakthrough propulsion, which I found encouraging. We were treated to a number of excellent talks including a 15 year olds discovery of a Gamma Ray Burst through the use of his personal Geiger counter, Kelvin Long discussing starship designs, and the i4is, and a particularly interesting talk by Sam Lightfoot. Sam’s work examines how certain technologies, if ‘gifted’ to a culture from a more advanced culture, can have particularly negative ramifications on the less advanced culture. He gave the examples of spam, iron axes, snowmobiles, tobacco and chocolate, and several other seemingly innocuous technologies which had dramatically negative effects on the culture to which they were given.
I also had the pleasure of presenting a talk on day 1 and chose to focus time on two key areas. Area one revolved around the realization that our culture tends to overestimate what we can accomplish on the short term, however underestimate what we can accomplish on the long term. I have examples of how far we’ve come since the flight of the Kitty Hawk in 1903, and highlighted that it was Victorian England that lay the foundations for the creation of the Nuclear Thermal Rocket after their experimental work on the substructure of the atom. I also devoted a reasonable amount of time supporting the creation of a breakthrough propulsion lab, and encouraged the community to appreciate that theoretical physics should be a major focus of our work.
Something memorable about this workshop was the busy schedule that Les has prepared for us. The talks began in earnest at 8am and, other than a few breaks for lunch and dinner, activities continued into the night, finishing at 11pm after a 3 hour workshop session. Unfortunately, during the workshop session I came down with a cold, and literally over the space of 3 hours went from feeling fine, to being congested and generally feeling very under the weather.
This cold lead me to choosing to start day 2 off slowly, and rather than attend the morning sessions I recovered in bed and took the hotel shuttle to a local pharmacy where I was able to pick up medicine to help me get through the rest of the trip. I was sad to miss a keynote speech by Claudio Maccone, and a talk by Icarus Interstellar Mike Mongo – however I’m planning on enjoying them as soon as Les uploads them to youtube.
I made it to the workshop by early afternoon, and again we were treated to a number of exceptional talks. I enjoyed a very spirited talk by Travis Taylor. Travis is an interesting chap, with two PhD’s, a career in the aerospace industry, science fiction author and star of National Geographic “Rocket City Rednecks”. Travis was optimistically gung ho about space exploration in general, and provided details on a potential martian habitat. He too promoted more work in theoretical physics and encouraged more work to be performed on breakthrough propulsion.
Early evening saw us all travel to Calhoun College where we listed to a talk from Icarus Director Bill Cress on the use of video in the interstellar community. Next, Project Icarus consultant Paul Gilster presented a talk discussing possible destinations for an interstellar mission. I then joined Bill, Paul, Kelvin Long and Gordon Woodcock on a one hour panel session where we articulated to the audience why we believed interstellar flight was necessary, then took questions from the audience.
After this event, all the Icarii headed to Rob Adams house where he and his wife kindly hosted a get-together for us all, for which I’m immensely grateful. I had the opportunity to speak with Richard Hatcher and Milos Stanic about the work they presented at IAC in Naples relating to numerical testing of the Daedalus magnetic nozzle. More on this soon as I began pestering Richard for a blog article. I also had a fascinating discussion with Milos about the fall of Yugoslavia. Milos, originally from Serbia, helped shine some insight into what it was like to live in Yugoslavia in the 90s when the country fell into disarray, and ultimately fractured. Since this conversation I’ve been reading everything I can on Wikipedia about this period in recent history.
I left Huntsville late Wednesday morning and arrived back in Texas in time for dinner with my family.