I’ve been to many AIAA space conferences over the decades, but this was my first attendance to the new format called ASCEND, in Las Vegas, and I have to say that it’s a huge improvement over the traditional ones. In my experience, the large AIAA conferences on space have traditionally been overwhelming in terms of the number of papers presented, and the high number of them being presented simultaneously, often with very low attendance at any particular one.

ASCEND was in comparison much more focused, with fewer, but higher-quality presentations, and much less frustration at having to miss events due to inability to be multiple places at once. There were also ample breaks from sessions to provide valuable networking opportunities, which has always been one of the more important reasons for in-person attendance.

While there were fewer presentations, there was no reduction in the scope of topics covered. As always, this was not merely a technical conference, but a conference on all aspects of what it is going to take to advance humanity into the solar system, with sessions on: space law; the economics of spaceflight; space transportation; space investment; space history; sustainability in terms of orbital debris and situation space awareness, utilization of in-situ resources for transportation, life support, and space manufacturing; space medicine; space assembly for telescopes and perhaps solar-power satellites; and even sociology for future space inhabitants.

The attendees ranged from students to seasoned industry professionals, not just from the US, but many other countries, with many opportunities for interaction between generations and nations. I applaud the AIAA for creating such an exciting and useful venue for those interested in moving humanity and life off its home planet.