I got back from LonCon3, this year’s World Science Fiction Convention, LonCon3, this morning.
It was exhausting, exhilarating and hard work.
I had a blast.
I’ve mentioned here before that I was the organiser for the science programme at LonCon3. This meant putting together over a hundred different science-related items – talks and panels – along with helping sort out and set up several exhibition stands. It wouldn’t have been possible without my excellent co-head of science, John Bray, who is a much better details person than me. It was also the culmination of 2 years of work by us and by the larger posse of science programme advisors and programme organisers who helped.
The science programme went down very well, and I was congratulated on it by many people at the convention.
This weekend was also special for several other reasons, one of which was that I got to met two people who have been into space.
Back when we started, James Bacon, the head of programming for the convention, challenged me to get an astronaut along. Fine, I thought, I have some contacts. I work on ESA space missions and on UKSA (UK Space Agency, whose twitter handle is @spacegovuk) projects, and I know an ex-head of science at ESA who is sympathetic to the science fiction cause. Together we should be able to pull some strings and get someone over.
That plan didn’t survive contact with the enemy.
The replies I got from the relevant offices at both UKSA and ESA, while polite, made it clear that science fiction wasn’t something they did or wanted to do, despite numerous NASA astronauts attending past US Worldcons.
This was going to require some lateral thinking.
Fortunately, I have some other contacts, and through these we reached out to the world’s other great space power, Russia, to see if any cosmonauts might be interested in coming.
It took a long time, and we didn’t know for sure that a cosmonaut was coming until only a few weeks before the convention. There were UK Border Agency hoops to go through and much more besides, but on Thursday afternoon I got the call – Anatoly Artsebarsky had landed.
I dashed off to help greet him, and shook hands with someone who has spent almost 5 months in space, and 33 hours on space walks. He’s a quiet man with a very firm handshake, but is really quite impressive.
A couple of days later I got another call – would I like to come and have drinks with Anatoly and another visitor – Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut who had flown on Mir at the same time as Anatoly.
Of course I’d like to! I was off in a shot and had a very nice time chatting to her, Anatoly and others at the reception.
I have to thank UKSA for this.
If we hadn’t had to get round their dislike of science fiction I would never have met two genuine space travellers. The likely best result if we had been able to go through ESA or UKSA would have been the attendance of someone still training to go into space.
But I think it’s UKSA’s loss. Instead of waving the flag for the UK government’s renewed interest in space, and crewed spaceflight in particular, to 7500 enthusiastic Worldcon attendees, we instead celebrated the achievements of a different country. But hopefully we have also inspired future generations of British and other SF fans to ever greater efforts in space, and maybe one day we’ll have people in the UKSA who can see past out-dated stereotypes, and realise that SF fans are true friends of space and science.