July 22, 2010

An Inspiring Visit on Solar Sailing

Having joined the Planetary Society this year, I thought I’d want to see some of these planetary folks in person. So I decided to visit the International Symposium on Solar Sailing 2010 (ISSS 2010) on that particular day when the Planetary Society would be there as well.

The trek to New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn seemed quick. I was reading Paul Gilster’s Centauri Dreams to maximize what little time I had, focusing my attention on the book, instead of gazing at the pretty woman seated across the aisle of my subway train ride.

I was late as usual, but was fortunate to see the last part of a lecture that was pretty amazing. I was shocked to see so few people attending the event. (To think that the online ticketing said it was fully booked--which nearly discouraged me from going). But I’m glad I still came to visit the event.

There were kids intently listening to the panel. And no doubt there were folks that were “young at heart” and very enthusiastic about space travel and exploration.

Then there was Bill Nye, the “Science Guy” whom Louis Friedman now introduced as the “Planetary Guy”. Bill Nye moderated the event with gusto, making the event livelier. His enthusiasm is really needed to inspire more people about planetary things.

During the the Q&A portion, I wasn’t picked to ask a question. But as the event ended, I was glad Bill Nye asked the same idea I was meaning to ask, “Will Solar Sailing take us to other Star Systems?” He then handed the mic to Louis who said it is quite a challenge pushing solar sails across interstellar space where the sunlight would become so feeble as the probe gets farther away from the sun. The current idea would be to push it using a highly-focused powerful laser (with information in it, too). Then he said that it would be another 100 to 200 years before we can truly send a solar sail probe to other stars.

Suddenly, with arms flailing--as if trying to swipe away the somewhat discouraging aspect of hearing a “hundred years”--Bill Nye ended the gathering with encouraging remarks about how incredible Solar Sailing truly is.

On my way out, I saw another truly inspirational scene. There were books on display directly in front of the exit doors, and I saw an elderly woman excitedly buying a couple of Gregory Matloff's and Les Johnson’s books (one was “Living off the Land in Space”). She was the same woman whom I overheard a bit earlier speaking to one of the panelists, "Thank you so much. This event is wonderful! There should be more publicity to these kinds of stuff!"

As I headed home, I continued to read Centauri Dreams ardently that I missed my stop. At the back of my mind I was thinking about that old lady. Her enthusiasm is fresh and vigorous. I am inspired. It’s never too late, nor anyone too old, to be enthusiastic about anything at all, even about dreams that will outlive us.

To me, that is the kind of human spirit that will take us to the stars.