While there are certainly many space conferences nowadays, there is only one dedicated to only space research: the annual American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) meeting.
Last week wrapped up an eventful 33rd annual meeting of ASGSR in beautiful Seattle, Washington. Formed in 1984, the goal of ASGSR is to support and foster the multidisciplinary scientists and engineers involved in the field of space research. ASGSR also has a large student focus to promote education and mentor professional development.
There were over 600 attendees this year, with at least ⅓ attending for the first time. Certainly not the thousands you would see at megaconferences such as the AIAA SciTech, ENDO or BIO, but a respectable amount for a niche research field.
This year had the usual focus on physical and life sciences as well as the technology involved in research of those fields. It kicked off with two workshops: one by the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) for Rodent Research opportunities; the other was by NanoRacks and Blue Origin, highlighting their suborbital payload services collaboration as well as their stand alone service options.
There were also many intriguing symposia: “Farming in Space,”an update on the Chinese “Manned” Space Program, and “Gravity Across the Continuum” with talks from research using the various types of gravitational platforms, to name a few.
Many of these symposia were webcast live and are usually archived for future viewing. That’s good, since there are always some that I miss.The 2017 webcasts (as well as previous years) are available on the ASGSR website.
Throughout the week, there were also over 200 talks during 30 concurrent sessions, each with a specific focus such as “Microgravity Combustion” or “Musculoskeletal Systems.” I sat in on several of these, maybe I’ll find time to eke out a blog post or two about them. There were several poster sessions, as well.
An exhibitor hall allowed participants to interact and “shop” around with ~20 various vendor booths. I’ve watched this hall grow in the past 5-6 years from about a dozen well established usuals, to now several new companies such as Space Tango, STEM Cultures and Applied Dexterity, to name a few. This is excellent for researchers as their options for whom and what they use for their microgravity project continues to grow, allowing for better pricing competition and driving fresh hardware designs. You know, like a real commercial marketplace. ;0)
There were also tours available of Blue Origin facility in Kent, WA as well as the Boeing 737 factory right next door to the hotel. Attendees unfortunately had to choose one or the other, which kinda stunk. I chose Blue, of course.
While it has grown in the past years, I did leave the conference with the feeling that this field and its body of work would be larger and more confluent if there was even a minor increase in funding for it. I’m seeing a lot of young researchers that get involved at an undergraduate or graduate level, but don’t continue with the field because the options for running a microgravity research only lab or even as a sub-focus in a lab are very limited. Maybe next year there could be a panel or series of talks on establishing funding or creating a continuous funding mechanism in the style of an NIH RO1.
Despite the funding woes, ASGSR’s yearly meeting always has a re-invigorating effect on me. While I may learn about the exciting microgravity and space research going on throughout the year through various media outlets, it’s easy to be trapped in your work bubble. This meeting is always a chance to hear about these diverse investigations from the actual researcher’s themselves. It certainly keeps me looking up!