Symposium in the Rain

Last week the whole family got to tag along with our rocket scientist to the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium in Boston, Massachusetts. Jonathan was presenting an update on the mechanical rover for extreme environments, like Venus, where traditional electronics can’t take the heat, literally.

When he first won funding from NASA for this “crazy idea” two years ago, we tuned in via live web stream to watch, and again last year as he moved into phase two. For the finale, it was so special to get to be there in person.

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The Symposium is high-class, a room full of professionals who have been awarded NIAC funding for their visionary ideas. While anyone can attend (or watch online), taking two littles was fairly daunting. Add to it, we’d have to navigate our way from our hotel just outside downtown into the city of Boston, by train, in the pouring rain. But LA to Boston is already a long way to travel to see Dad in action, so, huddled under umbrellas, I braved the weather with 4 and almost 2-year-old and made our way to the fancy hotel downtown.

We arrived, a little wet and sleepy. I’d had to wake Xander for the adventure, and Eddie managed to fall asleep on the short train ride, lulled by the rocking I suppose. I’d timed it so we arrived during a break and we were able to meet Jonathan in the hall outside. There would be one presentation then his own, so we could easily (I hoped!) last that long in the back of the room. We met a few of Jonathan’s colleagues, picked up some cool swag from the registration table (stickers, pins, etc.) and then it was time to take our seats.

Of any technical concept presentation, I’ll take a NIAC any day. They have to keep it short to fit all of them into the 3-day Symposium, just 15 minutes followed by 10 minutes of question/answer, and the ideas are so out there, so interesting, even when they get a little too technical for me to follow all the details. The guy presenting before Jonathan gave a hurried talk about breakthroughs in asteroid mining technologies. Did you know there is enough raw material in the asteroid belt to fully power the future of space travel and colonization in our solar system? He had a cool animation of the spacecraft being designed to “bag” a small asteroid. Eddie commented that it looked like a Star Wars ship. He wasn’t wrong.

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Meanwhile the small bag of toys I’d packed along with some snacks were saving the day in the back of the hotel ballroom. While Eddie was engaged enough and quiet for the most part, Xanderman doesn’t really know the meaning of keeping quiet. The most surefire way to keep his mouth shut is to keep shoving food in there.

Soon enough it was Jonathan’s turn. I think I get more nervous than he does. While I see some nerves and stress while he does the hard work of preparing ahead of time, in the moment he’s cool as a cucumber. His presentation was well-delivered, and he handled people’s questions and suggestions with poise and professionalism. He’s so cool. Basically, I’m super proud of him!

Sure, during the short video clip of the prototype rover navigating around a rock, Xander couldn’t help but exclaim, “Crash!”, since vehicles crashing are his favorite playtime activity. Sure, there were a few comments about the boys’ little noises from a few folks afterward, but the most common reaction was delight that these next generation “rocket babies” got to come hear about the real-deal, super-cool crazy ideas under development for the future of space exploration.

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If you’re interested, World Book partnered with the NIAC program to develop a series of books about many of these visionary new concepts. They’re designed for middle school age kids, so a little much for our rocket babies right now, but maybe just right for yours!

We ducked out after Jonathan’s presentation and did a little exploring around the historic hotel. When he was done a short time later, he showed the boys his fully mechanical clock, made of materials which don’t melt at high temperatures.

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Sons are naturally fascinated with their Dad’s professions, I think. And whether or not they follow in his footsteps, there’s something that warms my heart about the depth of connection fostered as they wonder, discover, and explore together!

 

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