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Mon, Aug 19, 2019

Spacefest X 2019... You Had To Be There

One Of The Ultimate Events For Unrepentant Space Buffs ...

By Wes Oleszewski, ANN Spaceflight Analyst

From August 8 through August 11, 2019 space buffs from all over the planet converged on Tucson, Arizona for the tenth volume of the gathering know as "Spacefest." Presented by the folks at Novaspace, Spacefest draws crowds of spaceflight fans as well as astronauts, mission controllers, authors, speakers, artists and space stuff vendors to the beautiful Marriot Starr Pass Resort in the desert hills five miles west of Tucson. For anyone who has an interest in space, attending Spacefest is the experience of a lifetime.

I first attended Spacefest in 2016 intending to sell some of my spaceflight books and to make some handy cash. What I discovered, however, is that the event is far more than that. The first day, as I was on my way to the ballroom to set up my table, I walked in and came nearly face to face with Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise. As casually as can be we started talking about his flying the M2-F1. That is the true underpinning of Spacefest; standing and casually talking with one of your boyhood idles about flying your favorite obscure aircraft as you just meet them in the hallway!

Where else can you walk through the resort lobby and casually introduce your 11-year-old daughter to Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott? Where else can you sit down to dinner with Apollo 16 moon walker Charlie Duke at the next table? Where else can you stand at the bar and raise toast with Apollo 15 CMP Al Worden? Where else can you ride the elevator with the nurse to all of the astronauts, Dee O'Hara? Where else can you sit at breakfast with Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham and talk about book publishing and promotion? Not only are the astronauts there to meet, but Mission Control legends such as Jerry Bostick, who was the mission control FIDO and conducted much of the math during the Gemini 6 and 7 first ever rendezvous in orbit and who had the idea to give every controller a small American flag to wave, was also attending this year. Likewise Flight Director Gerry Griffin, who was in charge of mission control as Apollo 12 launched and was struck by lightning, normally attends Spacefest. Sure, you can stand in line and pay for their autograph, but at Spacefest it is just as normal to stand in line and simply chat with them too. At the 2019 Spacefest there were nearly two dozen astronauts and a half dozen mission support legends.

In addition to the astronauts there are also artists and vendors on the floor of the massive ballroom. This year more than 30 space artists were there with their work for sale. Mike Collins was in attendance, flanked by his daughter and granddaughter with his art work proudly displayed.  Although the late Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean was greatly missed, his work was on full display. Although I'll not name all of the space artists who were on  hand I will highlight a few. One of my favorites is pencil artist Doug Forrest. He does images of Apollo missions that you will swear are black and white high resolution photos- yet they are done in pencil. Another of my favorites is the wonderful Lucy West. Her work in acrylic is inspirational and a long way from her days airbrushing souvenir T-shirts along Daytona Beach. Michelle Rouch who is an accomplished engineer inspires your imagination with her work. Someone whose work I just discovered this year at Spacefest is Aldo Spadoni. He is the first artist to illustrate a completely accurate Saturn V in flight and at S-IC staging. What caught my eye was the fact that he had the imbedded fairing retros correct and had the F-1 engines properly batted. Brian Flore stepped off his locomotive to attend Spacefest and his images were worth the effort. NASA pilot Mark Pestana's artwork is so real it'll give you chills.

Indeed all of the artists really set the mood when you walk into the ballroom turned art gallery.

Among the vendors and authors is where I normally reside. Many of the authors are only there to attend the presentations and spend an hour at the signing table while others such as Cindy Donze Manto, who wrote two (soon to be three) "Images of America" books, one on the Michoud Assembly Facility and another on the Stennis Space Center.

Her table is usually right near mine.

Aside from meeting astronauts there are always great presentations and lectures to be had. This year 36 speakers took to the podiums for a total of 38 programs. In this moment when a revived Apollo fever has swept us all, too often we find individuals who are more concerned with internet "likes" and "subscribes" than doing their homework and getting their facts straight talking about Apollo. It is a breath of fresh air to listen to speakers who actually know the subject of spaceflight. My favorites this year were Emily Carney, who stomped out the myth of the Skylab 4 "mutany" while Astronaut Ed Gibson, who was on the flight, sat right beside her on the stage. Also listening to the premier Apollo research historian and author Andrew Chaikin talk about the era of the lunar program, was worth the price of admission. My only regret was that I was not able to attend all of the lectures as every one was surly amazing.
Spacefest also affords the opportunity to buy admission to have an "Astronaut Luncheon" on both Friday and Saturday as well as a "VIP Reception and Art Show" on Thursday and a formal "Banquet" Saturday night.

Free with general admission is the STEAM hall for kids. It runs on Friday and Saturday and has all sorts of hands-on science and space activities. For the 2019 Spacefest there was one other 50th anniversary aside from Apollo 11. In 1969 the movie "2001 A Space Odyssey" opened in theaters across the nation. Thus attending the 2019 Spacefest was the star of that film, Gary Lockwood. Additionally, Spacefest had a Friday night screening of the blockbuster movie, and yes- Mr. Lockwood signed plenty of autographs.

Of course I cannot end this article without mentioning the fine folks at the Marriott Starr Pass Resort. As a former airline pilot and corporate pilot I have well earned bristling dislike for hotels in general, but the Starr Pass Resort puts them all to shame. This facility is absolutely first class from the moment you pull up in front and are greeted at your car door, to the golf course, to the amazing food and bar, to the immaculate rooms and the four sparkling swimming pools. My two daughters, both of whom are very well traveled and resort hotel savvy, are hooked on the Starr Pass Resort- my 11-year-old likes the "lazy River" pool the best… between Spacefest 2018 and 2019 she claims to have gone around it 54 times.

Spacefest was the brain child of the late Kim Poor who passed away from Ataxia in 2017. For a while it appeared that the program would fade away. His daughter Kelsey knew, however, that that was not what her dad wanted. Along with the rest of the gang at Novaspace they picked up the project and ran with it. Kelsey has really shoved the throttles to the firewall and Spacefest is growing. Additionally, one group has helped almost without intending to do so. The "Space Hipsters" a Facebook off-shoot has grown the attendance to an interesting degree. Space Hipsters founder, blogger Emily Carney, and her social media consigliere Lois Huneycutt have wrangled hordes of space hipsters to attend Spacefest- you see their buttons on everyone. I watched at one lecture when the speaker asked "How many first timers are here?" and nearly half the room raised their hands. Almost every one of those first time attendees was wearing a Space Hipsters button.

For every space buff who attends Spacefest it is the experience of a lifetime.  My kids will be able to go to school this fall and say that they met men who walked on the moon and women who flew on the Space Shuttle. They will also be able to tell their grandchildren the same thing one day.

(Artwork by Abby Garrett)

FMI: https://www.spacefest.info/

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