SPACE JAM 2004 ------------ John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org firstname.lastname@example.org 2004 September 1
Introduction ---------- The Republican National Convention is running in New York during 2004 August 30 thru September 2. As part of the convention, like at all such convention, there are many side sessions and parties to celebrate a this or that politician. On Tuesday 31 August 2004 there was a special side party, a reception, for Tom DeLay, Congressman from Texas and House Majority Leader. The meeting was sponsored by several aerospace companies for DelAy's general support of the American space program. It was called 'Space Jam 2004' I was honored to attend as a delegate of the New York regional astronomy community and newish leader of the NYC Chapter of national Space Society. Several other NYSkiers were also personally invited, along with several hundred others from across the country.
Mustering up ---------- This party ws in a loft near Hudson Yards, site of the proposed new Olympic and football stadium. With all the street closings and transit reroutings due to the main convention in Madison Square Garden, I just walked to the place from my office. Thankfully the weather dried out and cooled off, allowing me to maintain a brisk gait without over heating. A couple other chapter members were already waiting outside at a little past 17h EDST. Because this was a invite-only affair, we had to wait for chapter president Candace Pankanin to arrive with the official tickets and list of guests. She ambled along at about 17:25 to get our papers in order. By then others of our delegation and many other guests were milling around by the loft entrance. After getting our names matched against a master list at the entry, we were issued a wristband, then directed to the top floor.
Around the Garden --------------- I note a couple features of the Convention's effect on traffic in the area. There are many blocks closed to road traffic and others with restricted traffic. Parade barriers and police patrols are placed at the corners to fend off vehicles. Foot traffic is equally convoluted. The barriers for walkers are shifted from time to time. Knowing where they were one day, wasn't much help to me on the 31st. I had to detour for one extra street, when yesterday that street was unimpeded. At some corners police asked people where they were going. They did this not for suspicion of the people's intents, but to warn of restrictions or closings at the far end of the block. A person entering to continue thru to the following block may be walking into a dead end. On some blocks the foot traffic seemed about as dense as normal. This was an illusion. Thee were actually far fewer people in the neighborhood of Madison Square Garden. Myriads took holiday from the City to escape the disruptions of the Convention. The sidewalks were crowded because these fewer people were constricted into far fewer open sidewalks. Other than a somewhat crooked path from my office to the loft, I suffered no major hassles from the Convention.
Party time -------- On stepping off of the elevator, the wristbands were checked and nametags handed out. The actual space was an open floor with picture windows all around. The Sun was dazzling in the late afternoon blue sky. Altho only a few dozen guests were on hand when we got to the party, the room quickly filled up with more elevator loads within about a half hour. There were a few testimonial speeches by DeLay, retired astronaut David Low, a couple other politicians, and, near the end, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. Later in the session there was a doorprize drawing. Apart from these, we schnoozed and noshed and bantered about space. Food and drink were ample. Lots of hors d'oeuvres, canape's, cheese and crackers, fruit, cookies. Lots of beer, soda, and wine. The room had a few space decorations, a panel about ISS, some astronaut dummies. And two astronauts! One was a actor in a Texas sized suit; he looked out thru holes in the chest. He walked around, greeted the guests, and got pictures taken with him. The other was a REAL astronaut, David Low, a three-time Space Shuttle mission specialist in the 1980s and 1990s. He wore a regulation size space suit, assembled with a helper. Of course, this was an empty suit, just the shell with no internal guts. Otherwise it would be too heavy to walk around in. David Low is sometimes confused with George Low, his father. The elder Low was a ground controller for the Apollo project. The full name of the chap we rapped with is George David Low, so he generally goes by his middle name.
What a view! ---------- The loft consisted of one large room and a roof garden. From both there were spectacular views of the Hudson River and Lower Manhattan. Midtown was blocked by nearby towers, including an immense one with a forest of satellite dishes on top. Some delegates heard about Fay Wray and the Olympic stadium. I showed them the Gorilla Perch, then glistening in the lowering Sun, and the railyards where the stadium may sit. From the garden, many guests were freaked out by the two humongous tanks on stilts. What the eff are they?!?! I explained about our city water system and the crucial role of the tanks. Many were awed at the density and congestion of the City, even those who came from large towns in Texas like Houston and Dallas. While these towns have tall towers, they are spaced far apart with boro-size caryards between them. Here, on Manhattan, the buildings press together! I showed them on tower with a bare wall, pointing out that this is deliberate because eventually an other tower will nestle up against it. The Sun to me was an real annoyance, there being no curtains, shades, blinds on the windows. Near the end of the merriment, the Sun got low into thicker haze and softened his beams.
Prizes and perks -------------- About midway thru the meeting doorprizes were picked, based on a serial number on the wristband. The prizes were pretty substantial, being donated by the sponsoring corporations. Fellow NYSkier and chapter project director Myrna Coffino won a tabletop model of the Space Shuttle with autographs on it from several astronauts. No, I missed getting any prize. No one went home empty handed. All got a goodie bag of space stuff. This included a leather=like portfolio, space pens, sun visor, posters, DVD album.
Rubbing elbows ------------ By far the greater crowd was the regular convention delegation from Texas. The men wore Texas cowboy hats. When I first saw them on the street, before going inside, the hats looked a bit silly. But!, within minutes they all were rather neat and cool. I guess they were part of their convention getup because they were almost all of one style. The women in the contingent wore mostly flowered dresses in an assortment of colors. An other large group came from Philadelphia, with a more 'urban' attire. Some of these folk were part of space advocancies there. Everyone I spoke with was fixated on getting human space flights moving again or, more grandly, beginning the human explorations of the Moon or Mars. No one really promoted ongoing automatic or robot missions, such as Cassini, Genesis, or MESSENGER. And, of course, the Texas folk pushed for keeping their state's space economy alive. I apparently was the only 'astronomer' on the block! The delegates were surprised and pleased that a real astronomer was on hand; they asked me a lot of astronomy questions. The inquiries ranged as widely as those at the typical public astro session. Yes, I handed out both NYSkies and NSS NYC chapter litterature.
NYC chapter --------- The New York City chapter is among the more active ones of National Space Society under its president Candace Pankanin. The other delegates were wowed by the chapter's expanded activities. These include regular monthly meetings, participation in Earth Day and perhaps American Urban Star Fest, meeting summaries by Eugene and Frances Cervone, my SpaceWalk column, presence at Hayden Planetarium space events, occasional joint meetings with the local astronomy club, renewed liaison with the United Nations, letter-writing to Congress to promote the space program. National president George Whitesides and past president Bryan Chase were at the affair, heading the NSS contingent from Washington. They and Candace chatted on assorted organization matters repeatedly during the party. They engaged me and other chapter members in light talk to better appreciate the caliber of people Ms Pankanin is attracting to her chapter. Candace suffered a personal tragedy in the death of her brother in late August; It wasn't until Sunday the 29th that she recovered enough to look after the chapter's role in this Delay reception.
Partied out --------- The Sun was nearing the western horizon. slowing dimming out in the haze. The delegates were draining off in small groups. Loft crew started knocking down the props and cleaning up the food and drink tables. The last of us finally called it a night. I saw a stack of posters among other party trash. One of the crew handling them let me take one as a souvenir. The Cervone's and I took a taxi from the loft to a nearby subway, from where we rode home to Brooklyn.