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TEDxNASA Live Coverage

By Keith Cowing
November 20, 2009
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Livestream webcast of the event starting Friday morning at 10 am EST
Main website
NASA LaRC Internal Email: TEDxNASA: You’re Invited!
TEDxNASA: Where’s The Space Stuff?
Keith’s update: Joel Levine showed an image (this one) that he said had “not yet been seen publicly” but indeed was seen 4 years ago when ESA released it to the public. I did a simple simple Google search in my seat at the event and found a dozen websites that have it online a few seconds later.
Keith’s note: Live blogging below:

11:00 pm I attempted to post some comments over at the TEDxNASA Facebook site only to discover that I am blocked from commenting. How odd: a taxpayer-funded activity about openness and creative thinking – and use of social media – and a taxpayer is blocked from commenting. NASA holds events to discuss new modes of communication yet it simply does not understand the very things it seeks to discuss – and utilize.
6:00 More music. Ending live blogging now. Observations of the overall event next week. Quick summary – certainly interesting but 2/3 of the event had absolutely nothing to do with NASA or space exploration. In one case, a speaker babbled on about pseudoscience. I seriously question whether an event with this content is something that NASA should be paying to do.
5:47 Mitch Albom – wonderful author – “Tuesday’s with Morrie” etc. Talking about faith, etc. Standing ovation …. Again, waiting for the space context to emerge.
5:36 More music from Jana Stanfield . Wonderful signed rendition by one of the sign language interpreters. I used to be able to do that (sigh).
5:20 Two YouTube videos this time: Josh Silver demos adjustable liquid-filled eyeglasses (interesting) and Sixth Sense Projection Technology Demo (apparently filmed before augmented reality apps started to show up on iPhone and Android phones last year.)
5:00 Joel Levine – Mars and Earth – and life outside the Earth. Talking about the two LaRC-built Viking missions to Mars. Land are on mars is comparable to that of Earth. Regions on Mars that are highly magnetized. Is there liquid water on the surface of Mars today? No. I guess he did not hear about the observations of liquid water on the legs of Phoenix.
Levine showed an image (this one) that he said had “not yet been seen publicly” but indeed was seen 4 years ago when ESA released it to the public. I did a simple simple Google search in my seat at the event and found a dozen websites that have it online a few seconds later.
Claims that the only way that experts have decided to search for life on Mars is ARES – a robotic airplane. FWIW NASA has declined to fund this more than once – something he declined to mention. He claims, however that “we can rewrite the textbooks with one hour of observations”. “We are ready to go we just need money from NASA HQ”.
4:46 Another YouTube video: Nandan Nilekani’s ideas for India’s future. Relevance to space exploration? Other than explaining the factors at work in India, a growing space power (space was never mentioned), this is just another YouTube video used to fill up space in the agenda.
4:25 Sue Morter – this speaker claims that she has expertise in “quantum mechanics and bio energetics” Complaints from employees seem to have forced NASA LaRC to drop the “quantum mechanics” from her TEDxNASA bio.
Oh no, now she wants every one to do some sort of jazzercise thing. Its the Ellen Show.
“I am not a quantum scientist” she says. Hmm … weird that her website says this. Warning: she is engaging in New Age babble filled with scientific-sounding buzz words so I cannot keep up with her. “Now we can use Kirlian photography to measure ethereal field” she says. “When we release pressure is another wave from another spectra of energies that are referred to as our emotion – they are higher frequencies of energy than our physical body”“Thoughts raise our body off of the frequency of 10 cycles that nature has us resonate at.”
Yikes, she tosses this New Age psycho babble out at lightning speed. Not a word of this nonsense has any basis in science. She tosses out things such as “1 microvolt” and “2.5 microvolts” to somehow quantify this nonsense as if it were scientific. How NASA could possibly think that she has anything relevant to say in terms of any of the science or technology NASA involves itself in utterly eludes me. Who invited her?
Now we are listening to new age music and being told how to breath so that “we can move into a safe zone”. Sounds a little like a Moody Blues song. OK now the Caribbean happy music. Now everyone has to stand up again and boogie.
Relevance to space exploration? ZERO.
4:19 had a nice chat with the two sign language interpreters. I did that in a previous life. I could tell by the way that they were interpreting the event that there is not a deaf person here. Hard to explain how I could tell – but they both knew instantly what I was talking about.
3:44 36 minute break
3:25 Music by Mike Rayburn – cool guitar stuff. I’d probably listen to it on my iPod in space. Now he’s telling jokes with a few toss away lines on creativity. Sort of like “He-Haw” but done with better humor and guitar playing. Now he’s playing the theme from “Green Acres”…. “Dr. Suess as done by Led Zepplin” … OK, here’s going to be a space exploration tie in somewhere, right? But he really is a good guitar player.
3:14 Chanaia Booker: an artist that uses discarded rubber and turns it into sculpture. She also wears a lot of clothing on her head. I served time as an art major and my brother-in-law manages a modern art museum – so lots of the abstract art she does is interesting – some of it very interesting. But I am waiting for the relevance to space exploration. She just explained her appearance – “every morning I wake up and sculpt myself”. OK, now I get it – she is a piece of walking art. Kind of interesting. Still waiting for the space exploration relevance. Relevance to space: Some of it looks organic and alien – so I guess that is the relevance to space exploration.
3:04 another YouTube video: Michael Pritchard makes filthy water drinkable. OK, then why can’t we just do this in space? Good for 6,000 liters. Why do we need all that fancy gear on the ISS? Relevance to space: if you are going to live in space or on another world, there is a lot of relevance. But did anyone at this conference make that connection for the attendees? No. Why invite these people or show these videos if you are not going to make their relevance apparent? Lost opportunity.
2:45 Anna McGowan talk about aeronautics and its involvement in much of what NASA does. Offer a peek into the future of aviation. “The World On Demand” — we need aviation to make this happen – eBay, FEDEX, etc. $87 billion of lost work during traffic congestion every year. 1,400,00,00 cars will be needed by 2030. Just spreading out is not a viable solution. We have air- so much more of it than we have ground. It is not just making planes more agree but making them more efficient. Aspects of “The Jetsons” may be a part of our future. But I think we need something better that will preserve our small towns. How can aviation help preserve these things. Aviation can help feed us. Today we use hub and spoke mode of coordinating flights. We can use more of the three dimensionality of the sky to fly from point to point. The passion to explore and do the impossible is what brings us to work every day. Relevance: 200% she is a rather good speaker. NASA should use her more often.
2:28 Steve Shapiro – sometimes “rocket science” is not rocket science. Expertise is the enemy of creativity. Mostly a bunch of buzz phrases strung together. Relevance to space exploration? I guess so.
2:19 Watching yet another video that is already on YouTube Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation. This one is really worth watching if you are a fan (as I am) of prizes such as those that NASA has been offering. Some times the prizes (motivation) work to incentivize. Other times they can serve to limit people’s focus on the prize such that they do not take in all that there is to consider. Also talk about the crowdsourced/wikipedia model, etc and how extrinsic and intrinsic motivators work in the real world. Sadly, the applicability to NASA is minimal at this point because NASA does not operate upon principles that resonate with reality.
2:08 Leland Melvin and Tyler Cole: the first TED talk from space. Steve Craft introducing Leland Melvin who is from LaRC. No live TED talk due to various operational issues. So he recorded a message just before launch. He wanted someone from the next generation – Tyler Cole will narrate.
Melvin: reflecting on experiences that have gotten me to where I am now. This is all possible because of my family – extended family. And then work to find out how to make these dreams become reality. If everyone could see the view form space there’d be no more wars. Columbia Astronaut Dave Brown’s father said that his son is not coming back but that the biggest tragedy would be if you and others did not continue to explore.
2:00 Loretta Hildago Whitesides – we start out our life on this planet connected to everyone and everything. At 12 years old I decided that space was how I could help my planet. I use space to expand what people think is possible. Space is the ultimate blank slate. The ultimate opportunity for us to design what we want our civilization to be. We have not even visited the nearest stars – we are like babies on a galactic scale. Soon we will spread out across star systems. I want to help create a civilization that every one of us would be proud to spread across the universe. it will take more than rocket equations and mechanics. It will require many people. My favorite part – when we are out in the universe will be to be like little children again. Relevance to space: perfect.
1:53 John St. Augustine – making everyone stand up after lunch and clap hands to wake up. July 20, 1969. He was 10 year sold. Sitting at a baseball game. Went to his father’s poker game. 3:15 pm on the radio – said a human had landed on the Moon. Then they went back to the baseball game. I keep looking up at the sky thinking “people on the Moon?” Plays video of Apollo 11 first steps on the Moon (not the newly restored video). My life was changed in a moment – we had done something as a species – 3 step process – think about it, talk about it, then do it. We create moments – and then moments recreate us. Relevance to space exploration: substantial.
1:44 Sam Horn and “serendestiny”. Talking about hunches. Serendestiny = our best future. Talked about hunches as somehow conveying information. Relevance to NASA? The same as relevance of hunches to everything else. No mention of space.
1:35 Music with Jana Stanfield “If I were Brave”
1:22 During lunch I watched some mini-robots play soccer. I even kicked a ball around with one of them. Waiting for the afternoon session to start and wondering what sort of information LaRC collected about the attendees i.e. age, vocation, gender, interests, etc. No such information was asked of me and apparently lots of tickets were simply handed out to local folks. Its hard to fully understand the value of such an event if you do not know who was at the event.
*** Dennis Hong relevance to space exploration: tremendous. Other than mentioning JPL interest the focus of the presentation was on robots playing soccer. He could have shown robots on other worlds, working on Earth. This guy was oozing with interesting stuff. Hong should have been given an hour to speak including the time allotted to the first three speakers and the annoying jazz guys.
12:00 How do we do this research? We adopt the motto “There is no criticism – only refinement” and “work Smart, and then work hard” and “Do Not Forget to Have Fun”.
11:55 Dennis Hong – DARWIN Robot. Walks like a human. Went from having external computing – to a totally autonomous robots that looks around to find a ball and then play soccer.
11:45 Dennis Hong – robot designer with NSF funding. Has worked at NASA JPL as well. STriDER – three-legged robot – inspired by nature. Show clips from “War of the Worlds”. Demonstrated RoMeLo robot and IMPASS robots. CLIMBeR robot – says that NASA JPL people told him that interesting stuff is near cliffs. Shows video of robot climbing a highly inclined surface. MARS: 6 legged robot – even showed it typing at a computer. Then showed an amoeba robot – whole skin motion. RAPHAeL – a robotic hand end effector that uses compressed air for actuators – not motors. First prototype cost $200. HyDRAS robot – snake like robot that can climb structures.
11:40 Watching a video: Marc Koska: 1.3m reasons to re-invent the syringe Relevance to space exploration: zero.
11:33 Pat Rawlings: Finally, someone who knows space exploration. He’s an artist that works with engineers. Engineers want the technical details to be right – he is an artist so he wants people to see the “art”. Talking about telling stories in his art. Looked for a light source to use for night time landing of Mars Pathfinder. Also try to tell a back story -in once case- an astronaut with a Mars rover to show the interaction of human and robotic exploration. Showed a picture of a NEO mission where an astronaut is attached to cables on an asteroid while spaceships float by. Too bad he only had 6 minutes.
I thrive with limitations to work within. Visual literacy is important to day to explain complicated topics to a short attention span audience.
11:24 (Professor) Brenda Barrow: “The Math Lady from Outer Space”. OK, so she is dressed goofy in tin foil with a blinking red light on her forehead and talks like one of the Coneheads on Saturday Night Live. I’m an adult but kids apparently like her since she continues to win awards from the White House. Think of a female version of Bill Nye The Science Guy with ADD.
OK, now she is taking off her disguise – sort of. And she’s singing country western math songs. I am not certain this is her target audience.
*** Nancy Vogl: my estimate of his talk’s relevance to space exploration: none. Too bad – there could have been a discussion about workforce issues, reaching new sectors of society, STEM education for minorities, the changing face of education etc. Not a hint.
11:09 Nancy Vogl: “What if the whole human race have nothing to do with the color of race but love instead. I lived in a town divided by colors. Not unusual to hear racial slurs, the n-word, etc.” Now talking about interracial marriage issues in 1966, Supreme Court, etc. “I decided that I would break the cycle of racism.”
11:01 Music time. Esoteric jazz – the sort of thing public radio plays on Sunday afternoons. Ouch, this trumpet is screeching loud enough to be painful – bordering on annoying.
It has been an hour and I am waiting for someone to get into the vastness and potential of space exploration. This event, thus far, is more akin to something that the National Endowment for the Arts would be sponsoring. That would be just fine if I saw some looming relevance to what the sponsoring Federal agency (NASA) does. But I do not. I am waiting for someone to start connecting these presentations to space exploration. So far, no one has made any attempt to do so. How is the audience supposed to take what they see and hear and correlate it to NASA, space, etc?
*** Jill Bolte Taylor: my estimate of his talk’s relevance to space exploration: peripheral. Interesting – even inspirational description of the step by step process of through a stroke but no suggestion (or mention in any way) about how this relates to space.
10:54 Jill Bolte Taylor video “Jill Bolte Taylor How it feels to have a stroke” She holds up a real human brain with a spinal cord hanging down. That’s the second speaker to pull out a spinal cord and talk about brain damage. Interesting chat about what happens when part of your brain shuts down and your body stops working properly. “How many brain scientists have the chance to examine their brain from the inside out?” Talking about hallucinations that accompanied her brain as it died. She recovered. Took 8 years to completely recover. Talking about “life force power of the universe”, “nirvana”, etc.
*** Gregg Fraley: my estimate of his talk’s relevance to space exploration: peripheral. Interesting idea about ways to make yourself creative – this applies to lots of things – but no suggestion (or mention in any way) about how this relates to space.
10:39 Gregg Fraley: Imagine that you are a 1930’s era reporter. Imagine the smell of your notebook. Having a notebook is a behavior that can make people more effective. When you have one with you all the time yo will write things done and you will analyze them and incorporate them.
10:37 Gregg Fraley: Imagine Batman’s tool belt. You have to practice with them. You can tell difference between people who do brainstorming once a week and those who do it once a year.
10:36 Gregg Fraley: Avoid comparing. Imagine an old foot long wooden ruler. Now break it in half and put the parts in your back pocket. Now dance. I am a crappy guitarist. Self expression in everything you do. If you stop telling yourself that you can’t and throw away that yardstick of comparison.
10:32 Gregg Fraley: imagine a pair of rose colored glasses. Make some in front of your face with hands. Imagine rose colored glasses of deferred judgement. Imagine doing this as a life choice. The more I notice things the more I criticize them. When you defer judgement you open up doors of responsibility- see ideas in a new light. Guess what- ideas come to you. This is an amazing thing when it comes to teenagers.
10:23 Gregg Fraley: Talk about creative effectiveness. Imagine your coat of creativity – what you wear when you get up in the morning. Put that jacket on – everyone, go through the motion of putting that creative coat on. The way you get those ideas when you need them is to program yourself to get those ideas. Say that I chose to be more creative. Now I want you to form a heart in your hands and spray paint it gold. You need to create links between what you do in life and what you hear desires. If you do not then you need to go for a long walk in listen. If you do not like what you are doing then do sometihng else. Now put that heart in your packet and tap tap it to remind yourself to do what your hear desires.
*** Paul Aravich: my estimate of his talk’s relevance to space exploration: peripheral – at best. More social and political opinion than anything else.
10:22 Paul Aravich -Rant against sad state of mental health treatment. Now holding up a human spinal cord.”What’s up with the armpit – is it just a hairy smelly place? How do nerves get to your hand? How did Michaelangelo create Art? through his armpit.”
10:19 Paul Aravich – The universe between our ears. We know more about parallel issues than what goes on inside our heads. Holding up a human skull. I encourage people to go into neuroscience. Rocket science is for wimps.
This guy is talking very, very fast. I am impressed with the sign language interpreter (I used to do that for a living in another life). Skull he is holding up is from someone who died from traumatic brain injury. 50% more suicides than homicides but no one is talking about it.
10:12 Watching video on what TED is.
10:04 Sam Horn: we are so glad that you have paused out of your busy schedule to be here- and combine the best of art and science. Our goal is to be the most thought provoking conference you have ever been too. Range from a 3 legged robot, an ISS astronaut. and a young musical prodigy. Want you to write down things in your program – “ink it as you think it”. The premise of TED is “we can change to world through conversation.”
10:02 Lesa Roe: Yoda said “there is no try – just do. Let’s do it.
9:58 I finally got an answer back from LaRC on the costs of the event – why it took them sol long to do so is baffling. One thing that was left off, however, was all of the civil service time that was charged to this event. Note from Steve Craft late last night:
This is a funding breakdown for the TEDxNASA event:
– Speakers were provided commercial airfare and 2 nights hotel but they were not paid any type of fee – $10,200
– Ferguson Center facility rental – 2 days, 1 day for rehearsal and 1 day for event (includes technical support and union labor) – $11,400
– National Institute of Aerospace fully burdened labor – $17,000 This includes: graphic and web design support, video production and editing, logistics support, and project coordination
– Total NASA funding provided: $38,600
This was funded with an internal account (CMO)
I think you will find that similar events cost anywhere from $50K to $80K
9:52 Crowd looks very diverse – a healthy mixture of young and not so young. Rather low on the NASA geek scale.
9:24 Arrived and set up with my table and Internet connection. WiFi is intermittent – glad I have my EVDO as back up. Venue is nice. Staff all have matching TEDx NASA polo shirts, music is what you often hear in a Starbucks. Looks like NASA TV is not covering this. Strange – why is it that they have 4 channels – ah, so they can broadcast things like this. Oh well. That’s why I am featuring it on NASA Watch.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.