NSS at Crossroads?

NSS's Annual ISDC: A good barometer of Society's health, Guest post by Ian Malone

One of the premier space exploration advocacy groups is the National Space Society, (NSS). Formed in 1987, the NSS has established chapters across the country and around the globe. For much of its history the NSS has been a powerful force promoting manned spaceflight. However, much like NASA's Public Affairs Office, the NSS has lost touch with the people it is supposed to represent. The NSS's upper echelons until recently were massively instrumental in guiding the future of manned spaceflight.

Under the leadership of George Whitesides, the National Space Society was a vibrant organization that sponsored many outreach efforts and no member was treated as being "too-small to talk to". With Whitesides' departure for NASA, the NSS seems to be drifting away from its roots, outreach has lessened and members are looked down upon.

To gauge these two periods, one should compare two of its International Space Development Conferences, (ISDC). The ISDC, held annually, gathers together many heads of the space community and allows the space community to direct its efforts and to promote the exchange of ideas.

The 2005 ISDC was held in Washington D.C., had spectacular plenary sessions and a gala in the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center, (right next to the famed SR-71 Blackbird and in sight of the space shuttle Enterprise)! Its guest speakers included NASA Chief Scientist James Garvin, Mars Exploration Rovers Principal Investigator Steven Squyres, Burt Rutan and astronauts Jim Voss and Rusty Schweickart among others. There were tours available, one of these was to see Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith.

ISDC 2009 by comparison was a non-event. Although ISDC 2009 had a few astronauts, it had little of the "star-power" from just four years earlier. A special package to allow guests' entry to Kennedy Space Center was not made available and appears to have been actively suppressed. The rationale to have the '09 conference in Orlando was to allow guests to enjoy the area's rich space history. Plans to allow guests to see the new Star Trek movie on IMAX met a similar fate. Worst of all, initial reports had the gala for the '09 ISDC held at the Saturn V building at Kennedy Space Center. This would have been comparable to the '05 ISDC. Instead? The '09 gala was held in a spare room at the hotel. Guests should have been given more opportunities than the average sunburned tourist fresh out of Disney World - but were not. ISDC '09 was far from the shining success of ISDC '05 and a glaring indictment of those in charge. A person on the committee said the following,

"I knew someone that I thought would make a great speaker, but the folks in charge said he'd never attend, turns out that wasn't the case at all, his company covered his expenses if I hadn't pressed the conference would have even less than it already did."

Some of the problems might have fallen on the committee heads themselves, the public outreach seemed to be done last minute with few press releases to let the general public know what was happening. There was supposed to be an optional tour to see the recent Star Trek film in IMAX, this was squashed by conference organizers as was most everything else of interest. As one person who was initially involved with the conference put it:

"It seemed to me that it was poorly orchestrated and poorly managed, there was a lot of potential with this conference that wasn't allowed to materialize."

The Space Exploration Alliance, (SEA) was announced in 2004, shortly after the Vision for Space Exploration was released. It included the National Space Society and twelve other space and aeronautical groups. It, like the NSS, held great promise to back future manned exploration of the solar system. However, with the current leadership in place, it has not achieved its potential. Under Whitesides the NSS was a powerful force for change, if members had an idea or event to propose they would be helped in any way possible, good luck getting so much as an e-mail out of the current leadership.

The NSS is not a lost cause. Its ranks are filled with loyal spacers that truly believe in the dream of manned spaceflight. The problem seems to reside in the current leadership who have become arrogant and view members as merely a source of revenue. If the NSS can turn itself around, it could excite and lead the other members of the SEA, and resume the course it has spear-headed for so long. More importantly than leading the SEA, the NSS could continue to inspire, direct and support its members. It would not take much, the NSS has been there before, and it can be there again.

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This page contains a single entry by Ian Malone published on February 15, 2010 8:45 AM.

Space Blitz is Out of Synch was the previous entry in this blog.

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