Whether you're a veteran space cowboy or just curious about the people who go where no man has gone before, you'll want to transport yourself to Spacefest V this weekend.
You'll be able to meet men who walked on the moon, find out about the latest from those robot probes flying around the solar system, shop for space gear and generally explore the final frontier at the four-day convention.
The star-studded guest list includes more than a dozen astronauts and a whole bunch of space scientists, authors, artists and the like. Among the crew members on board for the weekend: Moonwalkers Gene Cernan, Alan Bean, Dave Scott and Edgar Mitchell; Adam Block of the Arizona Sky Center; Meteorite Man Geoff Notkin; Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog; and the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab's Peter Smith (who headed up the Phoenix Mars Lander mission) and Alfred McEwen (who runs the HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter).
On Friday night, Cassini-Saturn Imagining Team leader Carolyn Porco will talk about exploring strange, new worlds and seeking out new life. Porco will touch on the highlights of the Cassini mission, but she'll be focusing on the latest news from the flybys of Enceladus, one of the dozens of moons that orbit Saturn. She's convinced it's the best spot for NASA to be looking for signs of extraterrestrial life.
"I think that Enceladus is absolutely the go-to place in our solar system to find out if we have the possible second genesis happening on this particular moon," Porco says. "It has everything that we have been saying for 25 years now that we'd expect a habitable zone to have."
The moon has liquid water that is regularly blasted into space via geysers on Enceladus' south pole. (Some of that water has formed the ice that makes up one of Saturn's rings.) Porco says the water is infused with organic materials, is salty (like Earth's oceans) and "there's plenty of material there for organisms that live by ingesting chemicals rather than off sunlight."
Porco, who worked at the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab for 18 years before moving on to Colorado's Space Science Institute, has spent 23 years working on the Cassini probe. She'll get a few more swing-bys of Enceladus before the Cassini begins a suicide mission of descending directly into Saturn's atmosphere in 2017.
Porco says part of her will miss Cassini, but she's ready to say goodbye.
"By that time, I'll have been on this mission for 27 years," she says with a laugh, "and I think it will be time. Cassini has been less a mission and more a way of life."
Porco's work on Cassini led her to shaping a scene in J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot. She came up with the idea that The Enterprise could hide in the clouds of Titan, another of Saturn's moons.
"They sent it to me to look at and I commented," Porco says. "I said, 'This is OK, this is not OK.' They pretty much did not fix anything I said was not OK because they didn't have time and they didn't want to, so there are errors in it, but it made for a really, really cool scene and that's all they wanted from me."
A fan of the original Star Trek television series growing up, she thought it was fun to be part of the film, but she's more proud of the work she did on the film adaptation of Carl Sagan's Contact.
Porco will talk Friday night, as will physicist and BBC personality Brian Cox, but there is a lot more outer-space adventure planned throughout the weekend.
"We have astronauts, we have speakers, we have a space art show," says Spacefest V spokesman Randy Clamons. "There's no other in the world that does all three together."
Clamons highlighted a series of talks on Sunday, beginning with a gathering of Apollo astronauts.
"The Apollo astronauts—there are seven or eight of them—are going to talk about what it was like when they were up there," Clamons says. "The next one is about plans for exploration of Mars, and it just goes on from there."