Escape Velocity - July 1 – 3, 2016, Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center
Review by Judy Newton
Museum of Science Fiction (MOSF) *Report
Date: 29 July 2016
Escape Velocity was billed as "a micro futuristic world’s fair to promote STEAM education within the context of science fiction using the fun of comic cons and fascination of science and engineering festivals", and, just incidentally, to increase the visibility of the nascent Museum of Science Fiction. Held at the Gaylord Convention Center at National Harbor, it seemed to not quite fill the space it inhabited, even though the organizers claimed nearly three thousand attendees over the three-day event.
The big draws were a Roddenberry and a Nimoy, not, alas, the ones that spring to mind (who of course are dead), but their sons, Rod and Adam. Still, there were plenty of tales told and reminiscences about the Making Of and the Influences On, which were enough for the appreciative fans. There were two women known for their kick-ass roles in television shows, as well.
I was especially glad to meet Gigi Edgely, who embodied Chiana in Farscape. I wondered, as one does, if she had aged well since the series wrapped in 2003, but she looks great - although I would not have recognized her without the hours of makeup it took to transform her into Chiana!
A session titled "Women of Science Fiction" manifested as a dialog between her and Luvia Peterson (featured as a very hard-boiled anarchist in Continuum). The audience was eager to learn about Gigi's upcoming role in Star Trek Continues, the crowd-funded fan-made series.
It was nice to spend an hour listening to them in informal conversation, as the alternative was to approach them in their booths in the exhibit hall. As is common in profit-driven conventions, they were selling signed pictures and photo ops.
Another panel on Friday related "The Science of Star Trek" to current and possible future developments in real life, among them: quantum mechanics and entanglement as a gateway to space travel, artificial intelligence, and the Prime Directive morphing into NASA's Planetary Protection Protocols to recognize non-human life forms.
The panelists were a great example of the mix of science-fictioneers and scientists which made up the guest list for the convention. They were Dan Curry, known for his work on Star Trek series as Director, Visual Effects Supervisor, and Producer; David Grinspoon, Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, an astrobiologist who studies the possible conditions for life on other planets; and Alex Young, Solar astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Associate Director for Science of its Heliophysics Science Division. Dr. Young said he works for NASA because of Star Trek. I don't think he was the only one.
By contrast, the other science-based panel I attended was something of a disappointment. "The Future of Food" sounded promising, but proved to be a discussion of the current state of food science with very little prediction or extrapolation. It was almost parodic in its diverse mix of viewpoints: Dr. Anastasia Bodnar, a science communicator with a focus on biotechnology; Nevin Martell, a writer about food and culture; Jennie Schmidt, President of the Maryland Grain Producers, a third generation farmer, former Registered Dietitian; Jenny Splitter, a writer, storyteller, "recovered lawyer" and mother of two (Mommy blogger); and Dr. Jessica Meisinger, the director of Science Education and Communication for the National Renderers Association and the Fats and Proteins Research Foundation, a PhD Meat Scientist, and Butcher.
The only extrapolations to emerge were downright depressing. One was the further development of Quorn, fungus-based vat-grown meat; the other, food from algae-based powder. Both sound unpalatable to this foodie.
The other program items I attended were both Star Trek oriented. Rod Roddenberry's solo talk, and a panel, "The Final Frontier and Beyond: Star Trek 50 Years Later and its Impact on Space Exploration", with him, Adam Nimoy, Dan Curry (again), Alex Young (again), and Mason Peck, Formerly NASA Chief Technologist and now Associate Professor at Cornell. And that duplication wasn't a coincidence - this con scheduled all their guests early and often.
Roddenberry spoke to a ballroom full of fans about his father's career and the family foundation. He is deeply concerned with ocean conservation. We learned that he loves Star Trek Continues. He had a cameo in the last episode. He told them, "Put me in a red shirt and kill me!" His favorite original episode? "City on the Edge of Forever". Isn't it everyone's?
When Adam Nimoy showed up, he was unmistakable. He has an uncanny resemblance to his father. Then they all started talking about ST and our possible future - much more satisfying than the food panel. Rod R. brought up replicators. They make wealth irrelevant; anyone can follow their dream. 3D printers are the precursors of replicators.
Dr. Young mentioned that if you can travel at the speed of space, which moves faster than light, you can avoid the problems of faster-than-light drive. Also, space itself has energy. And, technology raises ethical questions. Are the beings created by holodecks sentient? As such, do they have rights? And remember that Prime Directive discussion from yesterday - do you interfere with a disaster? (Never mind that Kirk always did!)
There were many other things happening that I didn't interface with: game labs, comics writing, cosplay, a film festival, and evening programming. But I did tour the exhibit hall.
NASA had a medium-sized presence (not as big as at the USA Science and Engineering Festival earlier this year), but big enough to walk around. There were art dealers, the Navy Museum (with a reproduction of the log book page displaying the original computer bug), Star Wars re-creationists, vendors of games, movie props, figurines (I was gratified to see that the Rey figurine was almost sold out) and fully half the hall fenced off for a drone flying area. It seemed rather empty though; it was missing the critical mass of customers it needed to look successful.
There were many helpful volunteers, and the staff were cheerful, although sometimes overwhelmed with organizing their first large event. I can't imagine it made a profit, although if their objective was to raise the profile of the Museum of Science Fiction and inspire some youngsters to pursue science as a career, it may have accomplished that.