New Worlds 2019: A Space Settlement Conference from Earthlight

Laura Kobylecky
13 min readNov 28, 2019

Space Cowboy Dreams in a Texas Museum

By Laura Kobylecky

EARTHLIGHT PROMO POSTER

On November 15th and 16th, 2019, The Bullock Museum was filled with those who dream of space. The New Worlds conference by the Earthlight returned to Austin, Texas. This conference is for those who dream and do the things that lead to space settlement. By coincidence, the Bullock Museum was also hosting: “COWBOYS IN SPACE AND FANTASTIC WORLDS: A journey through the history of Westerns in Science Fiction” at the same time.

THE BULLOCK MUSEUM: AKA: Texas Museum of Texas

The Bullock Museum (https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/) opened in 2001 “as the official history museum of the State of Texas.” Like many things in Texas, it exists to raise awareness of Texas. Located just a couple blocks from the Texas State Capital, the wide atrium of the museum is covered with mottos and other emblems of Texas. The enticing stone walls, spiraled stairs and intricate details invite exploration. At any given time, school children, tourists and history fans are ambling about.

SPACE COWBOYS

The current exhibit, COWBOYS IN SPACE AND FANTASTIC WORLDS (https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/visit/exhibits/cowboys-in-space), traces “150 years of Western and Science Fiction history.” Located at the top of a spiral stair case, the exhibits expand in different directions. They include “toys, rare comics, pulp magazines, novels, original art, and props from movie and television.” There are glass cases with wookie faces, Avatar masks, printed comics, movie props and more. Curious children and various nerds press their hands too close to the glass. They remain a siren call of bright colors and kitchy fun.

THE NEW WORLDS CONFERENCE

The New Worlds Conference took place in a single, large, room on the second floor of The Bullock with all the Space Cowboy exhibits. The conference also included The Space Cowboy Ball, “a fundraiser for the EarthLight Foundation’s new Endowment for Tomorrow supporting STEAM Space education and research projects that further the human settlement of space while benefiting the Earth,” which happened in the larger main atrium of the museum. At the ball Dr. “Buzz” Aldrin was awarded the “Space Cowboy Award” for his continuous efforts to inspire people to explore space ( https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/dr-buzz-aldrin-named-2019-space-cowboy-1028645825 ).

This conference was put on by “The Earthlight Foundation,” (https://earthlightfoundation.org/newworlds/ ) which is “a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded and incorporated in 2012 to support the expansion of life and humanity beyond the Earth by providing vision, leadership and credibility.” The name is a reference to a vision from Apollo astronaut John Young. He described an eerie green glow cast by the earth on the moon. The glow of earthlight was apparently never captured in photographs exactly as the astronaut’s saw it, and so remains an almost-mystical vision.

DAY ONE, FRIDAY

The Conference happened in a large room. There were paintings from local artists lining the walls. Black curtains lined the stage and were bathed in a green light, our own little taste of earthlight. The conference was linear. That is to say that all talks were in the same room and occurred subsequently. There were no selected tracks; you just hopped on the train to see where it took you.

I happen to walk in as Franck Cordes Curator of the Bullock Museum of Texas History was speaking about the exhibits. He described much of the context, like the obvious ways that Star Trek was influenced by Gene Roddenberry’s experiences writing westerns. He explained how Han solo might have copied Northwest of Earth, a 1954 collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories by C. L. Moore. He might be on to something there, especially if you take a look at the cover of that book.

It was a fun presentation with bright slides that enticed one to roam the museum and explore the things he describes. But that would cause you to miss more of the presentation. Fortunately the exhibits happen until December first, so you have a chance to check that out.

SHARK TANK

After that presentation, was the “Sharks in Space Business Plan Competition.” The judges were Dylan Taylor, the founder of Voyager Space Holdings, Professor Robert Wolcott, Co-Founder and Executive Director of TWIN Global, William “Whurley” Hurley, Founder of StrangeWorks and Honest Dollar and Chris Hightower, MBA and serial entrepreneur and investment broker. The competition involved an audience-voted prize of $1000 and a judge-selected prize of $2,500 (https://cscf.space/announcing-the-finalists-for-the-fall-2019-newspace-business-plan-competition-in-austin-tx).

The first presentation was for Aquarian Devices (https://aquariandevices.com/). They are striving to improve the capacity for space telecom. Their thought seems to be that once more people travel in deep space they will need the “revolutionary high capacity communications network” that Aquarian Devices would like to provide.

The second presentation was Arch Rift ( https://www.archrift.com/ ) , “an emergency, automatically deploying pressurized oxygen helmet for use in space tourism and the space colonies of the future.” (https://cscf.space/announcing-the-finalists-for-the-fall-2019-newspace-business-plan-competition-in-austin-tx). The presenter emphasized the value of having 360 degree vision in a helmet and seemed to have a scalable path to market. Dylan Taylor, brought an interesting perspective in a reference to the “private” space travelers. He talked about people he knew who own a variety of interesting and valuable things but would still put a space suit on prominent display. This market might be worth considering, and that could be a factor in the design or marketing or other pathways.

The third presentation was CrowdSpace ( https://crowdspace.tech/ ). The company is said to provide “global carbon emission monitoring platform based on AI-powered processing of satellite imagery, multispectral, greenhouse gases and ground sensor data with a focus on agriculture, forestry and land-use.” They would leverage some existing platforms and sources for acquiring this data and then use an “AI” tech core to show companies their carbon footprint. Their technology could be used for companies that want to see their own carbon footprint. One of the judges questions how they could maintain ownership or compete with other tech giants for this sort of service, though it seems they assessed the idea as admirable.

The fourth was Exodus Orbitals ( https://exodusorbitals.com/ ). Their short explanation is that they could be “similar in spirit” to an “app store” in space. They describe their own concept as “an application development platform in outer space.” (1) They see the relationship between platforms and creators. A good platform could inspire more creators. Creators justify the platform, etc. Basically it’s chicken and egg and they want to be the rooster/catalyst. Something to think about.

The final presentation was Neutron Star Systems (http://www.neutronstarsystems.com/). They describe their vision of an “electric propulsion systems which will unlock the future of spaceflight” while being “cheaper and faster than the competition.” They had an abundance of interesting charts and a request of funding in the millions for their longer goals. There were convincing enough in presentation to take home the $1000 audience prize (https://www.linkedin.com/company/neutron-star-systems/).

The sharks $2,500 award went to Arch Rift. The winners, and other presenters, were enthusiastic and well-spirited about it all.

RADICAL ABUNDANCE

Later in the day was a presentation called “Radical Abundance Through Industrializing Space” by Justin Kugler, Vice President of Advanced Programs, Made in Space Inc. https://madeinspace.us/about/leadership/justin-kugler/. He discussed the possibility of ending “rare earth materials,” as a concept. Perhaps these materials need not be rare. Societies are trapped in a closed system, drawing minerals from our own rock. The possibility of space exploration, mining on asteroids and the like, will complicate the concept. Developing economical ways to mine or collect these minerals could have dramatic effects on the politics of their value as well as manufacturing in general.

A comparison might be seen in the current availability of spices. Their movement and manufacture changed economics and politics (https://www.spiceadvice.com/history/the-15th-to-the-17th-centuries). Their current comparative abundance changed cooking forever.

However, for now, bringing anything down to earth is so expensive that cancels out the possible abundance, but that could change ( if the dreams of the conference come to play).

CHINA IN SPACE

The next presentation was particularly intriguing. Dr. Namrata Goswami, Senior Analyst at Futures Laboratory, presented on “China’s Breakout into Space.” She explained the current strategy that China’s government has proposed for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” She mentions how the Eurocentric approach to pop culture might also be inhibiting understanding. When “we” think of science fiction that inspires innovation, we might think of Star Trek or Star Wars or Buck Rogers. Novellas like the hopeful “The Wandering Earth” by multi-award-winning author Liu Cixin (or the dystopian The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung) could be cultural influences overlooked by a western-only cannon of culture. If acknowledge the power of cultural influence to inspire achievements it might be prudent to see what influences are inspiring others.

She also goes into details on China’s available plans for space, future points and goals, as well as current achievements. Her detailed and supported presentation sheds light on some interesting and relevant global developments.

Here’s an article she wrote that outlines some of her points: https://thediplomat.com/2018/10/waking-up-to-chinas-space-dream/

US MILITARY IN SPACE

A later presentation provided another facet of global geopolitics. “Evolving Role of the Military in Space — Captain Cook to Captain Kirk” with Col. Pete Garretson (Ret.), Dir. Space Horizons Task Force, USAF Command /Staff College, Dr. Lamont Colucci, Author, Policy Expert, Assoc. Prof. Politics/Government,

Ripon College and Dustin Boyer, Commercialization Manager, DARPA (https://www.darpa.mil/work-with-us/for-small-businesses).

Dr. Lamont provided a nuanced presentation on a potential space presence for the U.S. military. He compares the void of space with the wide oceans that is defended by the Navy. From his perspective protection of space is established by maritime presence and traditions wherein hegemony of the US military provides assurance to shipping routes and economic interests.

More of his thoughts are here: http://lamontcolucci.org/2019/02/25/the-space-review-a-space-service-in-support-of-american-grand-strategy/

Col. Pete Garretson (Ret.) speaks in support and favor of the “Space Force.” By creating a “Space Force,” instead of extending the “Air Force” into space, the branch could be better supported by the right talent and more clearly earmarked funding. He talks about the military as a “peacekeeping” of “guardians.” He explains that we should “not fear a space guard or a space force or whatever it’s called.” Words like “peace” and “protect” and “Space Force” are used with great frequency and appropriately emphatic gestures.

Dustin Boyer talks about how DARPA is working with more businesses so they can move and adapt faster in a field that moves quickly. See here: https://www.darpa.mil/work-with-us/for-small-businesses

WOMEN IN SPACE

That evening there was a “Women in Space Workshop” hosted by Meagan Crawford

Managing Partner, SpaceFund, Host, “Mission Eve” Podcast, Board Director, Earthlight Foundation,

Host, Space Cowboy Ball (yes, she does a lot of things at this convention and in general), Rachel Lyons Executive Director, Space for Humanity (who was actively recruiting women to join the circle) and Kelly Larson CEO, Aquarian Devices (who presented earlier today).

Crawford opened the circle of discussion by explaining more of her ethos. Basically, space settlement wouldn’t work out long term without 51% women so it’s important to spread interest. Also, she (and presumably most of the women in the room) saw value in including women in the early stage thinking for these future innovations. Her ideas led her to offer free tickets to women for this convention in order to help reach these goals of inclusion and invention.

Due to time limitations, the workshop mostly just involved introductions of the women in the circle, but it worked. It was really interesting to hear the backgrounds from STEM to social sciences and more. These women came from all around the globe. The paths that led them here illuminated the diversity of inspiration and motivations that brought people to this room and where they might go next.

EARTHLIGHT POSTER FOR THE SPACE COWBOY BALL

DAY TWO, SATURDAY

WHY THE MOON

On the second day “Henk Rogers, Founder, International Moonbase Alliance” presented “Why the Moon? Why Hawaii?” According to https://moonbasealliance.com/henk-rogers “Rogers’ early career was spent in Japan as a videogame designer and publisher, before he secured the international rights for the blockbuster game, Tetris, and founded the company, Blue Planet Software.” Since then, he has expanded his view into the universe. Now, he is on a mission to build “a backup of life on Earth,” by helping facilitate human settlement in space.

He currently owns “HI-SEAS, a 1,200 square-foot Mars habitat where six crew members live in Mars-like conditions for up to 12 months to realistically simulate exploration of the Red Planet and help NASA and other space agencies learn from their experiences.“ Mostly, he talked about his plans for building the colonies. He mentioned inventions to build houses from moon dust through a process that would make the results much stronger that previous technology.

He also talked about how the surface of the land he works on in Hawaii mimics the surface of the moon, in some qualities, making it an ideal climate for this sort of experimental colony practice. He also talked about using robots with termite-like qualities to help build the tunnels where people could live (which might provide some protection from radiation in space).

His geopolitical views were interesting. He explains that airport terminals could serve as a model for future space settlements. Airport terminals are a place where people of different nations converge in semi-shared spaces. It’s an interesting model and concept. When questioned in detail about the mechanics, he defers to the expertise of the engineer-types that are more involved in the specifics of the project (and offers to connect with those individuals). After the show, he chatted with space architect, Anastasia Prosina (http://spacearchitect.org/our-members/members-directory/members-profile-anastasia-prosina/ ) about the merits of building it all from dust versus her thesis that some things might be better pre-assembled to facilitate the early stages.

THE SPACE PAPERS

The next session was “The Space Papers — The Moon and Beyond” hosted by Dr. Phil Metzger, Co-Founder NASA Swampworks/Planetary Scientist, UCF FL Space Institute. This presentation included an audience participation vote for winning papers.

Tamalee Basu, SICSA University of Houston (https://www.tamaleebasu.com/astropod), demonstrated her “AstroPod,” a pod inspired by the shape of a “conch” shell and designed to provide comfort to astronauts for long duration missions. Her project won the Kepler Space Institute’s $5,000 prize for best paper. Suzana Bianco, Space Decentral, presented “Pressure Envelopes — Large Volume Space Environments.” Rick Ward, Orbits Edge (https://www.spaceitbridge.com/orbitsedge-edge-computing-in-the-sky.htm), presented “Space Mining is More than Tractors and Shovels. A Data Infrastructure and High is Needed to Fully Realize.” Anastasia Prosina (http://spacearchitect.org/our-members/members-directory/members-profile-anastasia-prosina/) Humature, presented “Optimization of Mars Surface Habitation Interior Design.”

This article by Robert Wolcott, one of the judges for the “Sharks in Space Business Plan Competition,” who also spoke at the conference provided some insights on these papers as well as other things at the convention:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwolcott/2019/11/19/space-cowboys-chinas-new-long-march-interplanetary-opportunities-and-existential-risks--our-new-age-in-space/#7751ba134d17

HONESTY AND GOVERNANCE IN SPACE

Later in the afternoon is “Reality Check — Keeping Space Advocates Honest” with Dr. James Logan — Former NASA Senior Flight Surgeon/CEO Space Enterprise Institute reminding people that humans are still not biologically equipped for space and we should all be mindful that we are not quite ready for deep space long journeys with humans yet. There are things that must be done first.

Later Governing Space — New Models” shows even more varied opinions on the future of space government. The presentation included Matt McKibbin, Founder of DecentraNet as host. The segments were:

“Does Outer Space Governance Trump Governance from Earth?” by Lorna Jean Edmonds

Vice Provost, Global Affairs and International Studies, Ohio University, “A New Hanseatic League for Space” by Mark Frazier, Chair, Startup Societies Foundation “Holacracy — A New Governance Model” by Brian Robertson, Author, Investor and “America First in the New Worlds?” Valnora Leister — Adjunct Prof., James Madison University.

Edmonds explained the necessity of making the new space world, a better, more peaceful one. Her vision seems to be of a unified space that is shared. Her position provided a contrast from other ideas resting on the necessity of American hegemony as a necessity for expansion of settlements and trade routes.

Frazier explained the “The Hanseatic League” (https://www.ancient.eu/Hanseatic_League/ ) as a model for space exploration. “The Hanseatic League (also known as Hansa, Hanse, 1356–1862 CE) was a federation of north German towns and cities formed in the 12th century CE to facilitate trade and protect mutual interests.“ His vision is that banding together for the protection of trade could lead to prosperity.

Robertson talks about the idea of governance without government and ways of finding alternatives to the current familiar forms of leadership and law.

Closing remarks were made by Rick Tumlinson Founder of Earthlight Foundation, New Worlds Institute and SpaceFund. Obviously he believes very strongly in the concept of human space exploration. He’s inspired. He read a poem. He shares the dream. He’s a space cowboy dreamer y’all.

SPACE COWBOY BALL

Unfortunately, Dr. Buzz Aldrin was unable to attend the later Space Cowboy ball. In his stead, Tumlinson spoke fondly about Aldrin’s contributions to the field. He showed a tweet from Aldrin’s account earlier stating “While packing for the upcoming Space Cowboy Ball in Austin, TX, I came across these…think they’d pass for cowboy boots?“ ( https://twitter.com/TheRealBuzz/status/1195203770533191682 )

showing a pair of laced black leather shoes. They are not technically boots, due to their laces. However, if Dr. Buzz Aldrin calls them boots, they can be boots. After all, he did win the 2019 Space Cowboy Award.

Cas Anvar Actor, Co-Star Amazon’s “The Expanse” (Alex Kamal, Pilot, Rocinante) replaced Aldrin as speaker for the evening. All weekend, people had been raving about the comparative accuracy of “The Expanse” in its’ depiction of space travel. Also, Bezos (previous Space Cowboy Award Winner) bought the program for Amazon and saved if from cancelation. He kept the the audience interested with video and anecdotes from the exciting program.

As a whole, the New Worlds Conference presented an interesting experience. The fact that there was only one linear track of content helped create a united experience. This was change of pace from the experience at conferences with concurrent programming where attendees might curate their sessions to reinforce their current interests or beliefs.

Points were shown from a nationalistic perspective, to a global perspective, to a hypothetical “one world future” perspective. There were thoughts on inventions from billionaire entrepreneurs and of collectivist works and ideas from larger organizations. There were ideas from the private and public sector for the future of space innovation. From the actor to the astronaut, different people envisioned the best future of space settlement in different ways. In this space, this space settlement conference, they shared those perspectives and communicated them.

Videos of the presentations will be made available in the upcoming months on Earthlight’s social media channels (https://earthlightfoundation.org/).

Yeehaw, we’re going to space y’all.

--

--