Coming in for a soft landing

Hey, friends! Well, I’m back from spa…I mean…Orlando. It was a whirlwind trip wherein I brained a lot, drank a lot of coffee, pretended to be a ten year old aboard the ISS, wore funny hats, played with Lego, drove a small Italian car at very high speeds on the 408 around Orlando, and made some pretty great contacts. There was more to it, of course. Would you like to know more? Of course you would!

Okay, so, in my earlier post I already talked about my flight out, which was pretty miserable. I can’t stand security theatre at the best of times, and that coupled with an oversold flight, no room to work, my general dislike of Florida, and fretting about deadlines made me kind of a surly flyer. Once I was on the ground in Orlando, however, things started looking up immediately. Since Orlando is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay the hell away from the airport, I ended up having to rent a car. This was, surprisingly, the cheapest of my transit options. Figuring I’d end up with one of these ugly things, I was pleasantly surprised, read – stoked out of my mind, to find a shiny new FIAT 500 waiting for me on the apron with a bumpin’ Salsa station on the stereo. Taking all this as a sign of great things to come, I threw my luggage into the tiny hatch and took off. First, like a complete nerd, I synced my phone to the car’s bluetooth. Then I spent the next little while hooning around the freeways of the Greater Orlando Metropolitan Area and calling all my friends to tell them, “I’m calling you from a FIAT!”  Eventually I ended up in my hotel downtown, and after a slight hiccup in the check-in, got all settled into my room with a cocktail. After a couple hours of work, and some late night science and newdad conversation with Justin, I sacked out and dreamed about space all night.

Monday morning, after maybe four hours of sleep, I rolled into the lobby for a truly unmemorable breakfast and about eight gallons of coffee with Justin. We walked over to the conference and, after a little light mocking for being late, we settled in for some fun and science. Okay, so, in earlier communiques I misspoke or otherwise misrepresented what I was going to Orlando for. Mostly because I didn’t have a real good grip on what, exactly, I was going to Orlando for aside from talkin’ ’bout the Space Station. So, having said that, let me ‘splain some things to you guys.

On Monday morning, Justin and I walked into ideas Orlando, where the conference was taking place. ideas (no capital I) is, from what I learned, a creative consultancy firm that uses narrative-based systems to create branding and marketing stories for business clients. It’s cooler than I described it, trust me. Anyway, CASIS, who you’ll remember invited me, hired ideas to come up with a story to help CASIS sell both the ISS and the idea of the ISS to investors, businesses, and other potentially interested entities. In doing so, CASIS would finish the job given them by congress and help develop the ISS once its mission runs out in 2020. There, that should explain everything. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the day itself.

Walking into the conference room there were four tables with five or six people at each one. The tables were littered with toys; piles of Lego, squishy balls, toy soldiers, Hot Wheels, little cans of Play-Doh, all sorts of things for us to play with to help stimulate our imaginations. There were also delicious fruit and other snacks, all the coffee you could drink, tons of funny hats on a hat rack that I spent all day trying on, and all sorts of whimsical ephemera to help stimulate the creative process. At the tables were a mix of Insiders (CASIS employees, mostly engineers and marketing people) and Outsiders (people like me, creatives brought in to be, well, creative and not bogged down by scientific and engineering dogma). The front of the room is where the ideas guys had their computer and display set-up, and from where they led the events of the day. After a little mingling and settling in, we got started with the brainstorming.

Since the way ideas does their work is predicated on narrative and story, we pretty much spent all day telling stories. See, ideas has this patented system of activities where the people in the room tell collaborative stories, discuss those stories, then record both the story and the discussion for further review. They then take all this data and distill it into maybe four or five good stories to deliver to the client, all ready to go for marketing and narrative development. For the rest of the day, each table was given a number of activities to do, all based on storytelling. In one story, we had to pretend we were a pack of ten-year-olds set loose on the ISS for a day of play. In another, we picked a random “entity” (Google, a ballet company, a large urban school district) out of a hat then told a story about how we were going to use the ISS to further the goals of our entity. Most were like that, both funny and provocative (a lot of what my table did was try to figure out how to make money and the best, most efficient ways to push people out of airlocks), but there were also serious discussions about failure, and an activity where we had to write a letter from Earth (as in, the planet itself wrote the letter) to the ISS. Of course, each letter pretty much boiled down to “I got six billion problems but a space station ain’t one”. We also talked a lot about how we, America in general, has lost the narrative of space. People don’t care anymore, and while there are plenty of reasons for that, it’s both sad and incredibly limiting to our development as a people. I think a lot of answers to our problems are out there. Out in our star system and beyond, and we need to get out there and find them. That’s probably a whole other blog post though, and one I’ll do eventually.

At 17:00 on the nose we packed it up, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways. It was a long, hard day of braining and wording, but also a very, very rewarding one. I came up with some good ideas, some funny ideas, and some really really dumb ideas and spent eight or so hours surrounded by a bunch of super smart and creative people while talking about what to do with what is possibly the greatest technological achievement of mankind. I was mentally exhausted, so I hiked back to the hotel, had a couple of Old Fashioneds at the bar, then spent the rest of the night doing some SPEHS MARINE work and taking it easy. The next morning I was at the airport bright and early where I said a tearful goodbye to my awesome little FIAT and boarded my plane for the flight back to Detroit. The cherry on the whole great time was, hilariously enough, that my flight home was under sold and I had three whole seats to myself. Talk about luxury!

So, yeah. I’m back now. It was an honor and a pleasure to use my creative talents to help solve the riddle of stee…I mean…of how best to develop the ISS. On top of that, I made some very good contacts that are going to, hopefully, lead to some very cool future work. Now, more deadlines are coming and more assignments are coming in so I need to get back to really real work. Of course, if you’ve got any questions, go ahead and ask ‘em.

3 thoughts on “Reentry

  1. That’s a fantastic story and an incredible opportunity, Jason. Thanks so much for sharing it. It’s clearly an instance where I can be excited about how my tax dollars were spent.

  2. Nice “reentry” narative.
    Looking forward to hearing what you thought were the best and worst ideas for the ISS.

  3. There were so many ideas thrown around in those hours, both at my table and at the other three, that it’d be hard to pin them down Steph. I know I had some harebrained ideas. Especially one about celebrity chefs from all around the world making special freeze dried meals for their countrymen aboard the station as a way to put the ISS on the lips and minds of the masses through the power of the celebrity chef foodie cult of personality. It was mainly a “throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks” kind of thing. Basically, we need to get space and space exploration back in everyone’s minds. We need to spark the next generation of thinkers, explorers, scientists, and engineers. But, like I said in the post, that’s a story for another day. One which I’ll probably write in the next week.

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