Some times there are months that seem to drag out relentlessly without the slightest movement. No matter what you do, opportunities seem scarce, unnecessarily tough to exploit, and the effort you put in doesn’t seem to balance with what you get in return. The days draw out and you wonder if it’s worth it, if you’re making an impact and improving the world by being in it.
And then there are times like this…
I flew into Perth after nearly 2 weeks in Kuala Lumpur – trying to break the emotional slog of being in Perth for 4 months while reconnecting with an old girlfriend living there. As I’d jokingly predicted earlier, reconnecting with the ex went horribly & hilariously wrong – an important reminder to never go back to the carpet store.
The time away certainly broke the slog from the previous few months though: there’s been an incredible surge of opportunities being thrown at me from everywhere, so I’ve been balancing all them with alongside getting myself to Adelaide for the long awaited WOMADelaide festival!
From landing to leaving, I had less than 48 hours in Perth to try and pack up as much of my childhood room as possible, load what I needed for the next month into a bag and a ukulele case, see an old friend, and fly out to Adelaide. Oh yeah, and casually try to submit 7 different abstracts to the 2017 International Astronautical Congress before the May 8th deadline. Generally people attending the conference submit 1 or 2 abstracts at most, and spend the rest of their time networking… but apparently I didn’t get the memo. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to be there yet because IAC2017 may clash with Mars One’s final selection phase, but if I am there I’ll apparently be sharing my nonsense with 7 of the 9 different outreach and education categories – only those at the undergraduate & postgraduate education seminars will be spared.
Me after submitting 7 abstracts in less than 24 hours…
After landing I settled into my hotel the folks from WOMAD had organised, had dinner, and was on my way to speak on a fellow comedian’s podcast when I bumped into yet another ex-girlfriend on the street… at 11pm on a Wednesday night… in a city neither of us live in. The podcast was cancelled to boot, because apparently my life is some lame sitcom now, and to top it all off another friend got in touch the next morning (after a month of total radio silence) to say we shouldn’t talk anymore.
Things shifted gears the following evening though, when the University of South Australia (UniSA) hosted an event where Hi-SEAS IV Commander Carmel Johnston and I spoke to Angela Catterns about life on Mars. Carmel and I have emailed for the last few months, but hadn’t met until just before we took to the stage to speak in front of 800+ people together! We became fast friends, and had a perfectly balanced dynamic on-stage. It’s clear why she was selected to command NASA’s year-long Mars simulation in Hawaii: she’s incredibly personable and empathetic; cool-headed, firm in her convictions, and clear in her personal boundaries; and above all practical in her actions. Exactly the kind of personality you’d want commanding a human mission to Mars.
Angela Catterns (left) interviewing Carmel Johnston (right) and yours truly
The fun didn’t stop after the event though – that’s when the questions really started! UniSA had organised a VIP Meet & Greet with food for us afterwards, but we were so overwhelmed with questions that neither Carmel or I had much of an opportunity to eat. Several schools had been invited to see us speak, so naturally their students were eager to throw a million questions at both of us while we glanced over their shoulders at the disappearing food trays. The folks from UniSA managed to save us a little something to eat once the crowd started to thin-out, but after an hour-long onstage chat immediately followed by 2 hours of Q&A both of us were wrecked by the time we got to eat and head back to the hotel!
The next morning it was time to kick off the “Make Me A Martian” webcast schools event through Australia’s Science Channel! I worked with the folks from Australia’s Science Channel last year when I premiered “Cosmic Nomad” at the Royal Institute of Australia, so it was an absolute pleasure to be back to “compete” with Carmel in a game show designed to test our Mars knowledge while students all over Australia watched via the live webcast. If you missed it, you can watch Carmel thrash me in the habitat design challenge here.
The wonderful folks from Australia’s Science Channel took Carmel and I out to lunch, but my work definitely wasn’t done yet. I’ve been chatting to a production company in the US for the last year about a project involving space and science communication – I can’t talk about it much yet, and it may never go anywhere, but it was certainly exciting to slip back into the studio and film some pieces to camera for what could be an amazing project in the future.
With the side projects complete, it was finally time to get into the WOMADelaide festival itself! Carmel and I headed to Adelaide’s Botanical Gardens for the official opening ceremony for the festival, enjoying the opportunity to meet some of the incredible people involved in the seclusion of the Artist’s area. The personal highlight was briefly meeting Antarctic explorer, Shackleton Epic Leader and personal hero Tim Jarvis:
Tim Jarvis (left) with Barry Grey (right) during their recreation of Shackleton’s epic “Endurance” expedition
It’s no secret I’m a fan of Earnest Shackleton and of applying the leadership lessons of the Endurance expedition to a human Mars mission, so it was a genuine honour to meet and chat to a man who had painstakingly recreated that fateful escape from the Antarctic pack ice to safety. The fact that Tim did all of it alongside a ginger Royal Marine commando isn’t lost on me either!
Finally the event I was in Adelaide for had finally come: the WOMADelaide Planet Talks. Carmel and I had an absolutely amazing time speaking to a sold-out audience about “Human Life On Mars”, and it was an absolute honor to meet and have the event hosted by science communication and radio broadcasting legend Robyn Williams.
There was a little surprise organised after the event however which was a great personal reminder of why I love what I do. In late February I’d seen a post through the Facebook page for Australia’s Science Channel, sharing the story of a 9 year old boy who had written to the Australian Academy of Science asking if it were possible to buy Buzz Aldrin’s signature for his Dad for Christmas…
The Academy unfortunately hadn’t been able to get hold of Buzz, so they’d managed to get Professor Brian Schmidt to sign a poster instead. Now it just so happens that as Chancellor of the International Space University, Buzz Aldrin signs every certificate ISU issues. Which means I – the material good-shunning space hobo that I am – had a signature from Buzz Aldrin on a piece of paper hanging on my wall. Since I’m dedicated to reducing my footprint on Earth down a backpack and a ukulele, it was a pretty easy decision to send the Academy a Facebook message and say that I’d like to donate my copy of Buzz’s signature to the family.
So after we’d finished the Planet Talk, Robyn Williams and I invited Robert up on stage to accept the signature and give it to his Dad. It was pretty wonderful to have the Robert’s family attend the talk, and to be able to donate something which means so much to a family that would have otherwise just hung on my wall at my parents place underappreciated.
All in all it’s been a pretty wild few weeks, but things are really just getting started! I’ve been in Melbourne for the last few days starting the final stage of very personal project that’s been on hold for nearly a year and a half (I’ll share in the next few days what’s going on in a separate post for Patrons-only), and I’m about to jump on a plane to Sydney for a day of filming and TV interviews, zipping out to Canberra for the weekend, and then back to Melbourne for school visits as well as a trip to Perth to visit even more schools.
Absolutely no idea what I’m doing in April (or with much of this year generally for that matter) but there’s certainly no shortage of exciting opportunities and potential – I’ll keep you posted!