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It probably comes as no great surprise that we were late getting away. We didn't get onto the Interstate until 10:05 a.m. Tuesday morning, October 8. Our reservation in Houston was for the next night, October 9, and our poster was due to be put up at 8:00 a.m. on October 10.
Cheryl had gone to the members site on AAA Online and found the fastest route (which, given the mountains and all, is not the shortest route). I checked with her as we left: "Let's see.... The driving instructions are to turn right at Cheyenne?" "That's basically it."
I'd been up longer than Cheryl, so after we got away from town and up the Columbia Gorge, I stopped at a rest area and we swapped out. We'd taken the back seats out of the van, and Cheryl had fixed up an air mattress, pillows, and blankets. I climbed back there and promptly fell asleep, while Cheryl drove.
We repeated that pattern continuously. As one or the other of us felt we could no longer drive safely, the one sleeping would get up and take over. We pushed the speed limit slightly, but no more than 5 mph as a rule. Luckily, limits in Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado were 75 mph, and by stopping only as long as necessary to relieve ourselves, get drive-through food, and refuel, we made pretty good time. Luckily, the weather was excellent most of the way.
My understanding of the directions was not quite right. We did turn right at Cheyenne, but then took a left at Denver and another right at Salina, Kansas. South through Oklahoma City and Dallas, both of which found Cheryl driving, which made her twitch a lot afterwards. Down south the air was clear enough, but clouds were low, and a fine mist kept forming on the windshield. We had to run air conditioning to cut the humidity. Dallas was a sight at 1 a.m. on the 10th. The architecture of the downtown high-rises is flamboyant, and they have pretty light sculptures on them as well. They lived up to their name "skyscrapers" as several of them disappeared into the low clouds.
I had called ahead on my cell phone to assure they would hold our hotel reservation for us. Good thing, too, as I finally pulled in at 04:10 a.m. this morning. We made the trip in 40 hours, as well as losing two hours to time zone changes.
We managed to grab a whole hour and a half sleep before we had to get in "conference clothes" and catch the 07:20 courtesy bus to the big George R. Brown Conference Center near the heart of downtown Houston. Big as it is, heavy construction is taking place there to make it even bigger, and the bus had to weave between construction trucks and cement mixers to reach the front door.
The bus ride was slightly interesting. Just coming out of our hotel, we saw a French guy representing the European Space Agency, a couple of very polite Japanese guys, and another fellow whom we can't place. Behind us on the bus a couple were speaking in German. One of the "goodies" in our registration bag was a CD-ROM "Multilingual Space Dictionary" prepared by the International Academy of Astronautics in Paris.
Conference registration was well-organized and fast, though I at first was issued a badge for an "Amy Walden." Got it right the second time. We were each handed a large black leatherette soft briefcase, with outside pockets and two large zippered inside sections and a shoulder strap, so at least we got something nice for our $400 (each) registration fee. They're expecting up to 13,000 people, you do the math!
Our briefcases were heavy, and turned out to contain not one but several program books. The World Space Congress is actually several concurrent conferences, each with its own organizers and programs. As full registrants, we can go to them all. There is no "master schedule," so we have to go over several different ones each evening for the next day to plan what to do. Ugh. I've already spotted programs I want to go to including solar effects on climate, propulsion, outer solar system exploration, human factors in long-duration spaceflight, managing liability and risk in space, and of course plans for lunar exploration and bases and Mars exploration.
After getting our all-important conference badges, we went upstairs to the third level and found where the posters go. Our poster board is 46" x 47" and can hold 20 sheets of paper. Some folks brought one large sheet, rolled into a tube. Since our poster was on the "Mare Orientale Prime Meridian Lunar Coordinate System," we put up our pages using little round map pins instead of thumbtacks. The poster boards were poorly designed, though, with a soft, yielding surface and a much-too-hard inside, so we had a hard time getting the little tacks in. Next time I'll bring a roofing gun! I've enclosed a photo of our setup.
Our poster board is one of a couple of dozen in a long row, with another row facing it. There's at least a couple of dozen of these rows, and along the back of the room even more banks of poster boards at right angles to our bank. Seeing this, I thought of the closing scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," where the crated Ark of the Covenant is wheeled into a giant government warehouse and lost among rows and rows of stacks of crates.
Our poster will be up for the full run of the Congress, through October 19. Some posters in other categories only get two or three days, then must be taken down to make room for the next batch. So, at least we rate more than that. Actually, having a poster at this conference is better than a presentation, which would only be at one time and limited to five minutes. This way we have the best chance of exposure. There is one scheduled time, next Tuesday evening, when we are requested to attend to our poster and explain or "defend" it to all comers. As will all the other presenters in our category.
Looking over the schedules, we decided nothing happening today was going to be more vital to us than catching up on our sleep. So we caught a return shuttle bus (they run every 20 minutes) and were asleep by 10:30 this morning, not to get up until we heard evening rush hour outside our window. Cheryl ordered us a pizza delivered, so we didn't even leave the room the rest of today. We just finished mapping out what to do tomorrow, which starts with an 08:30 plenary on lunar exploration and plans.
It's hard to describe how huge this conference is, and how eclectic -- and all about space! Among all the program items are some that we know would apply to work being done by Tom B., Bob, and Gus, and we'll try to attend as many of those as the scheduling permits. We'll report back later how successful we are at that.
This morning's Houston daily paper had an astronaut painting, looked like one of Al Bean's works, and an article about the WSC on the front page. They promise an article or more on the Congress every day. We got today's paper and will try to collect the whole set. Luckily, we're up early and the hotel has a small supply of complementary papers we're welcome to take.
Just wanted to let you know we got here alright and we're almost back to normal from the trip. By the way, we expect the route we took getting here will be snowed in when it's time to come home, so we're planning to take the southern route then through New Mexico, Arizona, and California. We also plan on stopping and sleeping in beds along the way, so we won't be making that trip quite so rapidly.
Take care, everybody,
Bryce & Cheryl