This weekend, Citizens in Space participated at Maker Faire in Kansas City. In just two days, we met and interacted with more new people than most space activist groups attract with an entire year of conferences and expensive parties.

Why is that?

The Maker Faire movement is huge. The flagship Maker Faire in San Mateo attracts than 100,000 people each year. A total of 46 Maker Faires and Mini Maker Faires are scheduled to take place in 2012.

The science-festival movement is comparable in size, with more than 100 science festivals taking place in 2012. The San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering, one of the largest, attracts 55,000 people.

So, why are there no space festivals?

There was the World Space Expo held at Kennedy Space Center in 2007, but that was never repeated. There was also the X-Prize Cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which took place twice and, again, was never repeated.

Space activists only seem to want to talk to one another. Several years ago, we tried to interest the Space Frontier Foundation in the idea of a public space festival. This was before Maker Faires and science festivals became widespread, so we used the analogy of a boat show. The chairman of the Space Frontier Foundation told us bluntly, “No one wants to see our boats.”

It’s sad that the head of an organization dedicated to “opening the space frontier for everyone” believes that people are not interested in space. (So, who are they opening up space for, again?)

Part of the problem is simple avarice. Groups like the Space Frontier Foundation view their conferences as lucrative fundraisers. They want to charge $600 for admission and $200 for the banquet to maximize the take. Of course, they often spend as much as take in and depend on NASA to bail them out. That, somehow, makes sense to them. By contrast, Maker Faires are run by people who are closer to the “open source” community and want to be inclusive, so they keep the ticket prices down. Ironically, there’s a lot more money changing hands at Maker Faires than New Space conferences.

That result would come as no surprise to the late Robert Heinlein and G. Harry Stine. It’s part of the “pay it forward” capitalism they advocated. Unfortunately, today’s space activists don’t seem to understand the concept.

We also like the type of person we meet at Maker Faire. The people who spend $600 to attend a New Space party generally only want to talk about space. The people at Maker Faire are willing to roll up their sleeves and do something.

Written by Astro1 on June 24th, 2012 , Citizens in Space

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COMMENTS
    Bennett In Vermont commented

    Bravo! Please keep pushing this in front of the players in both old and NewSpace. I’d be willing to travel pretty darn far to attend a fair aimed at expanding the base of energized advocates for HSF.

    Reply
    June 24, 2012 at 6:36 pm
    Chuck Black commented

    There may be more space science, technology, engineering and mathematics festivals being run than you know what to do with.

    I personally track 90+ every month at http://spaceconferencenews.blogspot.ca/.

    If you want to put on a public event, then do so. Don’t wait for one of the usual suspects to to agree that it’s worth putting in extra time and effort to build your event.

    As you so rightly pointed out “they’ve already got one.”

    But there’s lots of room in this universe for everyone and lots of room for new events.

    Reply
    June 25, 2012 at 10:11 am
    Ken Murphy commented

    Looking forward to having Citizens in Space at Moon Day, the D/FW space fair, on Saturday, July 21st at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas. Nearly a score of exhibitors, adult and family-friendly classes, an art show, inflatable planetariums, door prizes, Lunar Sample Bags, movies, and more. All meant for the general public.

    Sounds like just the sort of thing you’re talking about.

    Reply
    June 25, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Hi, Ed!

    Two words: Space Access. We’ve been doing a lot of the things you call for here for years now, bringing together a cross-section of space “makers” and letting them talk about (and show) their stuff, at an affordable price.

    Our next Space Access conference will be mid-April 2013 in Phoenix; watch the website for details later this summer.

    Mind, we’re growing steadily, but it hasn’t turned into a mass-market thing for us so far. As far as I can tell space remains a minority taste, at least at the level of getting actively involved and doing something. Before you beat too hard on any of your colleagues for not effectively reaching out to the majority, you might want to see how many of those new people you met and interacted with at the Maker Faire follow up with you in any way.

    Speaking as a veteran conference organizer, setting up an event for thousands at tens of dollars each is a great way to reach people and raise funds – if the thousands show up. If you get the usual hundreds instead, it’s a good way to end up too broke to ever run an event again.

    Anyway, don’t let me discourage you – Citizens in Space is doing great work. But I advise looking very carefully at your followup rate before you commit too much of your resources to more mass events.

    Reply
    June 25, 2012 at 6:43 pm
    Destino commented

    How does the Space Frontier Foundation justify charging so much for a conference that’s sponsored by NASA? Isn’t it run by volunteers? Where does the money go?

    Reply
    June 27, 2012 at 1:28 pm