Sure, getting a chance to see George Takei is pretty cool. But how many chances are there to get up close and personal with exoplanet expert Sara Seager? And to be able to ask her exactly what an “exoplanet” is?
You can at the Smithsonian Magazine’s second The Future Is Here Festival, which is focusing on the interplay between science and science fiction. So on one hand you’ve got Mr. Sulu, who helped fly a pretend spaceship; on the other you’ve got former space shuttle flight controller Joshua Moskowitz, who helped several actual missions.
“Science fiction writers for 100 years or more have been mapping out different kinds of futures,” says Smithsonian magazine editor in chief Michael Caruso. “There was this idea that you could look ahead, predict the future, and have scientists go build it.”
The speakers — including explorers, authors, NASA engineers, biologists, the president of the New York State Distillers Guild and many other people who as kids wrecked the curve in science class — will spend two days giving talks and participating on panels.
“It’s a bit like a TED conference, but you don’t have to fly to California and it costs a lot less,” Caruso says. “We have so many incredible experts at the Smithsonian I thought we’d use the resources of the Smithsonian to get them out there onstage.”
These won’t be droning science lectures, either. “I don’t think there’s any dichotomy between smart and interesting,” Caruso says. “There’s nothing more fun than hearing people who are really smart. And the diversity of it — you can sit in one place and go all over the Earth and all over outer space.”
And it’s not all sitting and learning. Sometimes there’s drinking and learning! The Sunday session was co-produced by Nerd Nite, a group that brings science into bars in more than 75 cities. “It’s a group devoted to science and alcohol,” Caruso says. “Not necessarily in that order.”
And, since the weekend’s about the future, there will be jetpacks. “We’re going to have a guy flying a jetpack outside the Reagan Building,” Caruso says. “The Secret Service wasn’t crazy about that. If the guy goes up too high they will shoot him. I think that will add an element of drama.”
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. & Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., $250; smithsonianmag.com. (Federal Triangle)