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Expert Voices

For All Humankind: The National Space Society and ISDC 2019

The National Space Society (NSS) recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first landing of humans on the Moon with its 38th annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. The ISDC promotes the vision of the NSS, to enable the expansion of humanity into the solar system and promote the utilization of the vast resources in space to dramatically improve life on Earth. 

The ISDC draws people from around the world with over 1,000 attendees this year, including over 400 international students. High points of this year's program were presentations by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, National Space Council Executive Secretary Scott Pace, and Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate.

A pre-conference day featured a policy forum on space settlement that explored the legal, regulatory, and economic issues related to developing thriving space settlements that may ultimately enable millions of people to live and work in space. This was followed by a symposium that examined the economic and regulatory issues related to the creation and operation of solar power "farms" in Earth orbit to send gigawatts of safe, clean energy to virtually anywhere on Earth. This vast energy resource will not only meet humanity's growing hunger for electrical power, especially in underdeveloped regions, but largely eliminate the generation of greenhouse gases in the process.

Bruce Pittman,  Senior Operating Office of the National Space Society. (Image credit: National Space Society)

The ISDC is a multi-track conference that features five or more simultaneous events, offering something to engage most any area of interest. This year's conference included sessions on the settlement and utilization of the moon and Mars, updates on new launch systems, discussions of the design and development of space infrastructure, the creation of space solar power systems, the expansion of space-based business, bio-sustainability, and space elevators. A special session highlighted NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program and the many fascinating projects it is supporting.

NSS awards banquets recognized prominent members of the space community, with the prestigious Wernher Von Braun Award presented to Tory Bruno, the president and CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA). Space Pioneer Awards were given to Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot and commander; Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden; former Apollo flight director and director of NASA's Johnson Space Center Gerry Griffin; aerospace journalist Miles O'Brien; Jeff Manber, CEO of Nanoracks; and Martine Rothblatt, CEO of United Therapeutics and founder of Sirius Satellite Radio.

One of the NSS's primary goals is to encourage the education and development of the next generation of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, and many of the hundreds of students in attendance participated in the society's Space Settlement Contest. This annual competition provides students from around the world an opportunity to gain experience in the design, development, construction, and operation of safe, ergonomically-designed communities in space. 

Almost 2,700 entries were received involving 12,899 students. The winning team of 11 members hailed from the Makua Lani Christian Academy in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, and received the $5,000 Herman Rubin Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship is presented in memory of Dr. Herman Rubin, a professor of statistics and mathematics at Purdue University and one of the greatest polymaths of his era. Dr. Rubin was a strong supporter of both space settlement and STEM education, and the NSS is proud to award this scholarship in his name.

The National Space Society was founded in 1987 by the merger of the National Space Institute, founded by Dr. Wernher Von Braun, developer of the Apollo Saturn V booster, and the L5 Society, inspired by the work of Princeton professor Dr. Gerard O’Neill and his pathfinding book The High Frontier.  

Next year’s ISDC will be held near Dallas, Texas, on May 28 to 31. More information on attendance and student competitions can be found at isdc2020.nss.org.

Bruce Pittman is the Senior Operating Office of the National Space Society and serves on the NSS Board of Directors.  

Bruce Pittman contributed this article to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

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