Spaceflight Insider

Space exploration takes center stage at Silicon Valley Comic Con 2017

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin speaking on "Humanity's Future in Space" on April 22, 2017 at Silicon Valley comic Con in San Jose, Calif. Photo Credit: Jim Sharkey/SpaceFlight Insider

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin speaking on “Humanity’s Future in Space” on April 22, 2017, at the Silicon Valley Comic Con in San Jose, Calif. Photo Credit: Jim Sharkey / SpaceFlight Insider

SAN JOSE, Calif. — This year’s Silicon Valley Comic Con (SVCC), held on April 21–23 at the San Jose Convention Center, added space exploration to the event’s mix of pop culture and technology. Both NASA and the SETI Institute had large displays in a central area of the exhibit hall. Panels were held throughout the convention, with scientists and engineers discussing a variety of space-related topics. Other highlights included a talk by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and the SETI Institute’s SpaceBall Gala.

NASA's display at Silicon Valley Comic Con. Photo Credit: Jim Sharkey/SpaceFlight Insider

NASA’s display at Silicon Valley Comic Con. Photo Credit: Jim Sharkey / SpaceFlight Insider

“The SVCC event was great public outreach and just a lot of fun,” said Chris McKay, the senior space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. “Talking about Mars exploration at the SVCC was a natural fit. I see a lot of overlap between the NASA missions and the world of comics.”

NASA panels and exhibits were coordinated by the Ames Office of Education and Public Engagement. NASA provided 24 panelists who spoke on panels about the exploration of the Solar System and beyond, NASA’s Journey to Mars, research aboard the International space Station, living in space, NASA’s next technology, and Mars science.

NASA’s booth on the exhibit hall floor included displays about laser communications technology, exoplanets, aeronautics research, space biosciences, human factors, and more. Staff from NASA Ames missions such as the planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft and the SOFIA airborne observatory answered questions and talked about the findings of those missions. SOFIA pilots were available to sign autographs and visitors could take pictures of themselves in a standing astronaut suit with a peek-through cutout in the helmet.

On Saturday, April 22, Buzz Aldrin spoke at the Civic National theater to a crowd of about 2,000 people about his career as a NASA astronaut, the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and his plan to land humans on Mars by 2035.

The SETI Institute‘s booth had a cutaway model of NASA’s SOFIA flying observatory showing the aircraft’s interior, as well as models of the Kepler spacecraft and the Allen Telescope Array (ATA). Visitors could talk to SETI Institute scientists and get a free pair of eclipse glasses. SETI scientists spoke on panels about the hunt for life beyond Earth and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The SpaceBall Gala featured lightning space talks by researchers, theremin music, and a live auction. On Sunday, the SETI Institute presented a screening of the movie Contact (1997), complete with commentary by SETI Institute astronomer Jill Tarter.

Virgin Galactic was represented on the exhibit hall floor by a model of “Cosmic Girl”, the Boeing 747-400 carrier aircraft that will air launch the two-stage LauncherOne rocket carrying small satellite payloads into orbit. Scott Macklin, Propulsion Boost Stage Manager at Virgin Orbit, gave a talk about how Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit are trying to increase access to space for both humans and satellites.

“I believe that there is an intrinsic good that can come from both crewed and uncrewed spaceflight,” said Macklin, who is responsible for the design development and operation of the first stage of LauncherOne, including the rocket’s boost engine, NewtonThree.

After a brief summary of what the experience of a suborbital flight aboard SpaceShipTwo would be like, Macklin discussed the orbital LauncherOne rocket. The 747-400 carrier aircraft “Cosmic Girl” will carry the LauncherOne rocket to an altitude of about 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). The first stage of LauncherOne is powered by a single 73,500 pounds-force (326.9 kilonewtons) of thrust NewtonThree rocket engine. This engine would typically fire for about three minutes.

After stage separation, the 5,000 pounds-force (22.2 kilonewtons) of thrust NewtonFour rocket engine will carry a satellite payload weighing up to 661 pounds (300 kilograms) into orbit. The company is hoping to reduce development and production costs with innovative techniques for manufacturing carbon fiber propellant tanks and 3-D printed combustion chambers.

Model of Virgin Galactic 747-400 “Cosmic Girl" carrying 2-stage LauncherOne rocket. Photo Credit: Jim Sharkey/SpaceFlight Insider

Model of Virgin Galactic 747-400 “Cosmic Girl” carrying 2-stage LauncherOne rocket. Photo Credit: Jim Sharkey / SpaceFlight Insider



Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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