CosmicCon 2015

To see all the photos from this event please see here

As well as being a story of amazing astronauts, Emmy award winning TV stars, many marvellous meteorites and scores of super savvy space fiends it is also a tale of the kidnap of an astronaut……….

I first met Richard Garner at North West Astro Fest in 2013. He was there representing his ‘Space Collective’ business and his stand happened to be situated next to our British and Irish Meteorite Society (BIMS) display. We chatted over the space suits and meteorites and he mentioned a ‘special project’ that he was working on and wondered if we might be interested in getting involved. We exchanged contact details and he said he would be in touch. Well that ‘special’ project’ turned out to be CosmicCon and it turned out to be very special indeed!

When Richard did later get in touch and outlined CosmicCon to us we were hooked and ready to sign up on the spot. However there was a problem in that the dates clashed with the Cheltenham Science Festival. BIMS had put on a display at Cheltenham in 2014  and we had been asked to do so again in 2015. After much discussion we decided that we would give CosmicCon a go and so unfortunately had to cancel our stand at Cheltenham. What helped us to make our decision was finding out that Geoff Notkin and Steve Arnold of Meteorite Men fame were going to be in attendance for the first time at a UK event, and that was something we really couldn’t miss. We hate letting anyone down but we have had to start saying no as we get asked to attend so many shows and sadly we just can’t do them all. Over the last few years of BIMS attending events and putting on displays some things have definitely changed. In the early days I was very pro-active in promoting our services, emailing and ringing event organisers and promoters in order to get a foot in the door. Now things are different in that event organisers come to us, and in fact we get more offers than we can handle. We have always worked hard to improve our displays by making a few changes each time, from new posters and display materials to new specimens, competitions and display cases. We do this to hopefully make a bigger ‘impact’ (wink smiley) with visitors attending and also to give us a more ‘professional’ image to better reflect the structured organisation that BIMS is becoming. For CosmicCon we had decided to get some polo shirts made up with the BIMS logo and website details. Luther Jackson worked with my BIMS fireball logo and produced a very professional design that we were really pleased with – another little step in the right direction.

Our new BIMS fireball logo sewn onto our Polo shirts.

Our new BIMS fireball logo sewn onto our Polo shirts.

In the run up to CosmicCon we tried to promote it as much as possible as being an inaugural event it was important to spread the word and make it as good as it possibly could be. Along with Nick Howes and many others we posted, tweeted, retweeted and tagged to create as much of a buzz as possible. In the end what actually happened was that we created a roar!!

Friday 5th June was the designated setup day and before long it was soon upon us. I had managed to get away from work by early afternoon and so I was the first of the BIMS crew to arrive. My car was chock-full of display boards, banners and posters which I was eager to make a start on setting up. As I walked into reception to find out where we were going to be situated I bumped into Nick Howes, Geoff Notkin and Cristina Stanilescu from the Emergency Asteroid Defense Project (EADP) It was really great to finally meet Geoff after many years of online acquaintance but we only had time for a quick hello as we all buckled down to setting up our respective displays.

Boxes, bags, cases, poster tubes and more boxes, I realised that I really need to invest in a hand trolley! On one of the many trips to and from my car I noticed Apollo 15 Astronaut Al Worden enjoying a smoke outside so I sneakily took the opportunity to have a chat, knowing he would be very busy during the weekend. What a gentleman, despite all the epic feats he has achieved or maybe because of them he proved to be very down to earth and easy to chat to. I was on a high as I continued to unpack and setup our display. I remember posting on Facebook and Twitter that with a start like that it was bound to be an epic weekend!

Part set up, still a way to go yet!

Part set up, still a way to go yet!

I managed to get the display boards, our BIMS meteorites banner and the tables laid out before Graham Ensor arrived and after a quick tour of the venue we cracked on with the rest of our display. Luther Jackson soon joined us after a journey delayed by heavy traffic and we put the finishing touches to our room. We had been allocated a separate room that could be securely locked, which meant that once finished we could leave our display set up all weekend. I was initially a bit worried about being away from the main event hall where the Astronauts and other exhibitors were situated but our room was actually just opposite the door to the main hall so we didn’t miss any of the visiting traffic and the ease of securing our display certainly helped us to relax and enjoy the weekend.

We were pretty pleased with our display! :-)

We were pretty pleased with our display! 🙂

After stepping back and admiring our work, we all agreed it was a great display, the biggest we had done so far. We had our usual suspects on display including my collection of UK and Irish specimens, Graham’s large chondrites and amazing Martian and Lunar specimens and Luther had filled three beautiful antique mahogany display cabinets with gorgeous space rocks. A few new additions were Graham’s 60 gram Lunar Troctolite individual with amazing green glassy shock veins and Luther’s full size cast of the historic Peekskill meteorite, hand painted to match the original and even including the famous Chevy Malibu red paint. I had a 22 gram part slice of Peeksill with an amazing long edge of characteristic fusion crust. Both Graham and myself had also taken advantage of Greg Hupe’s recent offering of large slices of Seymchan pallasite cut from a 54 kilogram individual. Graham’s slice had arrived a few days before whereas mine had been delivered that day. Unfortunately as I was at the venue setting up it had been delivered to my local post office. Not wanting to miss out on displaying this beautiful slice of celestial stained glass I arranged a courier to collect the package and deliver it to the hotel the following day (smiley) We also had copies of the Appley Bridge Meteorite book on display and for sale, signed by the author Russell Parry.

Russell Parry's 's Appley Bridge Meteorite book for sale.

Russell Parry’s ‘s Appley Bridge Meteorite book for sale.

After locking our room we managed a quick sneak peek at the other displays to see what was going to be on offer to the public over the weekend. Displays included Richard’s ‘Space Collective’ stall featuring all things ‘Space’, from space ice cream to photos signed by Apollo astronauts. ‘Moonpans’ were there with some amazing panoramic images of the Apollo moon landings, including some signed by the astronauts. ‘Astronomy Now’ magazine had a stall with current and back issues of the magazine. Manchester Astronomical Society (MAS) had a great display featuring some of their member’s fantastic astro photographs. The European Space Agency (ESA) had a stand that proved popular with visiting kids as they had numerous posters and goodies to give away. Their stand was flanked by full size cut-outs of astronauts Tim Peake and Samantha Cristoforetti and these proved to be a popular photo opportunity for selfies.  There was Stockport Binocular and Telescope Centre selling astronomy related equipment and just outside our room was also the Custom Cupcake Company selling some amazing space themed cupcakes – they were delicious! There was a display from the Emergency Asteroid Defence Project (EADP)  manned by Cristina Stanilescu who also gave talks on the project on both days. And of course there was Geoff and Steve the Meteorite Men who both had stalls selling meteorites. Steve (Steve Arnold Meteorites) had some self cut Lunar Troctolite slices in various sizes and price ranges and a large selection of other specimens too. Geoff had his Aerolite Meteorites stall with a stunning selection of goodies on offer including many specimens found during the filming of the Meteorite Men show. He also had signed books, posters and postcards. They were both kept very busy over the weekend as the visitors developed a penchant for Space Rocks! Geoff was ably assisted by Honourary ‘Meteorite Man’ Nick Howes and ‘Meteorite Maiden’ Jane MacArthur who helped man the Aerolite booth during the show.

Steve Arnold arranging his meteorites for sale.

Steve Arnold arranging his meteorites for sale.

Of course the biggest draw for visitors to the event were the four astronauts who would all be giving talks over the weekend, attending Q&A sessions and of course just being there for visitors to speak to and to get autographs and photos from. The line up was Al Worden (Apollo 15), Jack Lousma (Skylab 3, STS-3, Apollo 13 support crew), Don Thomas (STS-65, STS-70, STS-83 and STS-94) and Kathy Thornton (STS-33, STS-49, STS-61 and STS-73) Their names were hung over their respective desks ready for the raft of visitors the next day to queue up to speak to their heroes, get autographs and some souvenir photos.

Jack Lousma, Kathy Thornton, Al Worden and Don Thomas. (Photo courtesy of Dave Wilkinson)

Jack Lousma, Kathy Thornton, Al Worden and Don Thomas. (Photo courtesy of Dave Wilkinson)

Richard had called us all to the bar for a quick meeting and so we all grouped around to listen to the house rules before grabbing a bite to eat and drink. Unfortunately at this point I had to leave Graham and Luther to fly the BIMS flag as I had to head home.

Graham, Geoff, Steve, Cristina and Nick. (Photo courtesy of Luther Jackson)

Graham, Geoff, Steve, Cristina and Nick. (Photo courtesy of Luther Jackson)

After collecting a few bits and pieces together the following morning I headed back to the hotel and prepared for the visitors to arrive. We were joined by BIMS member Matt Smith and as we put the final touches to our stand, as always we had other stallholders coming round for a look at what we had on display. These were soon followed by the VIP ticket holders who had ‘early bird’ entry to the event and from then on we were busy all day. There were plenty of kids in attendance who as usual had some excellent questions for us. Most of the visitors were obviously interested in all things ‘Space’ and so proved to be fairly well versed in all things meteoritic too. It’s always nice to have discussions about specimens on display on a variety of different levels with different people.

Children love space rocks :-)

Children love space rocks 🙂

As there were four of us manning our display, we each managed to have a bit of time for a wander around which is something of a luxury for us as we normally don’t get a chance. In the afternoon Luther and Matt got to see Geoff and Steve’s ‘Meteorite Men’ talk with the premiere of their new show ‘Meteorite Hunters Unlimited’. We had many positive comments about our display, with visitors being amazed that they were able to handle some specimens including pieces of the Moon and Mars. The combination of our different collections when shown together like this really is world class. There are of course many museums and many big private collectors with vastly more impressive collections than ours, however many of these specimens never see the light of day and certainly are not made available for close examination or to be handled. Being face to face with visitors and being able to pick up and handle specimens that illustrate a particular point or aspect of meteoritics is key to increasing knowledge and igniting passions in visitors. So many folk who came by our stand were certainly interested and asked relevant questions but when given an opportunity to hold a piece of the Moon in one hand and a piece of Mars in the other their mouths literally dropped! It is that sort of moment that can set off a chain of thought and process that surpasses anything one can learn from reading or a presentation alone. The hands-on element of our outreach is key!

Myself, Graham, Matt and Luther proudly wearing our new BIMS polo shirts.

Myself, Graham, Matt and Luther proudly wearing our new BIMS polo shirts.

We also ran a ‘Guess the weight of the meteorite’ competition which over the weekend attracted 394 entries. This always proves a laugh as visitors try to compare the weight to various things and the guesses varied quite widely!

Visitors having a go at our 'Guess the weight of the meteorite' competition.

Visitors having a go at our ‘Guess the weight of the meteorite’ competition.

Whilst at our display I was approached by the guys from Awesome Astronomy who were recording a special edition of their monthly and asked if I would answer a few questions. No probs at all – anything to share my passion for space rocks. The resultant podcast was released on 1st July and is a great record of the atmosphere at the event.

See here for the section on Meteorites recorded at Geoff Notkin’s display featuring Jane MAcArthur:

See here for the section where they speak to myself at our BIMS display:

Please see here to access the full episode with interviews with all four Astronauts. You can also subscribe and access all previous episodes here too.

This weekend was also when I was initiated into the #Britarmy group of space aficionados. They are a group of ‘Space holics’ who meet up at space events all over the world. Member Alex Neumann designs artwork that she makes badges and posters from for each event that they attend. I was presented with my badge at CosmicCon and so was Graham as he impressed Alex with his Moon rocks. Alex also gets all the #Britarmy members, stall holders and VIP guests to sign a poster which is then presented to the event organiser as a memento. It was great to meet in person diehard #Britarmy member Sam Mundell who I had been friends with online for a year or so.

#BritArmy members meeting up at CosmicCon :-) (Photo courtesy of Alex Neumann)

#BritArmy members meeting up at CosmicCon  (Photo courtesy of Alex Neumann)

After a continually busy Saturday we shut up shop at 6.15pm and headed for our rooms to get suited and booted ready for a 7.30pm start for the evening drinks reception. I even went as far as to wear a set of meteorite cufflinks from Jurassic Jewellery made by friend and fellow BIMS member Ian Barrett. After a quick photo of the BIMS crew looking smarter than ever before we enjoyed a few drinks whilst mingling and chatting, before checking out the seating plans to see where we were sitting for the meal.  The three of us ended up on the same table as Geoff and Steve, along with Dave Wilkinson, Ben Biggs, Jane MacArthur and a gentleman whose name sadly now escapes me. We had a great meal with some great company and we all enjoyed the wine that was so thoughtfully provided. During the meal Richard said a few words and each of the Astronauts gave a speech along also with Geoff and Steve. Don Thomas focussed on the science that is done whilst in space and how scientists are all important when it comes to space missions (without any mention of Woodpeckers!). Jack Lousma talked about how the various missions he had flown had changed as time went on and how they compare to missions today. Kathy Thornton drove home the importance of education and Science outreach to help move the next generation forwards and Al Worden spoke about the genetic drive in us as a species to explore Space, and finished with a self penned poem along those lines. Although stumbling in places as he had no notes, it was obviously from the heart and was a very touching moment to witness. Geoff and Steve also took to the stage to talk about their new project ‘Meteorite Hunters Unlimited’ and to showcase the resultant promo video.

The three amigos, suited and booted :-)

The three amigos, suited and booted 🙂

The meal was over all too quickly and it was time to head for the bar. The three of us became four as Ben Biggs joined us for the rest of the evening. We settled ourselves on the corner sofa and let the alcohol flow. We moved on from the wine to beer and cider and at some point later in the evening I recall moving onto rum and whisky. Things got a little bit hazy after this point as we went past 2am……..then 3am and 4am………

Three amigos plus one new addition! (Ben Biggs)

Three amigos plus one new addition! (Ben Biggs)

Somewhere around this time we had moved outside and whilst sat enjoying the view of the moonlit sky Ben brought me a bizarre concoction of a drink. Apart from knowing it was a mix of spirits in a half-pint glass and from the strength of smell not having any or little mixer in, I was and am still not sure exactly what it contained! Down the hatch!

Our view at 5am from outside the hotel.

Our view at 5am from outside the hotel.

We had decided that as the breakfast buffet opened at 4:30am we might as well stay up and get some food before grabbing a couple of hours sleep to be back on our stand by 9:30am. As we approached 5am however it transpired that the buffet didn’t open till 6am and so we decided to finally call it a night.

After two hours sleep I got up, feeling surprisingly perky and joined Steve Arnold for a fantastic full English breakfast, exactly what was required to kick start the day. We were soon joined by Graham and Luther who also dived in for their breakfast fix. Back in our room we met up with Matt who probably quite sensibly had missed the previous evenings activities and all armed with large coffees we prepared ourselves for the first visitors of the day.

Maddie, Zach, Me, Graham, Luther, Katy and Dave.

Maddie, Zach, Me, Graham, Luther, Katy and Dave.

We were expecting a visit from Dave Gheesling, daughter Maddie and half brother and sister Zach and Katy. They were flying into Manchester from the USA for the beginning of a whistle stop tour of Europe ending at the Ensisheim meteorite show in Alsace, France on the 20th/21st June. Bang on time we saw Dave and Maddie walking down the corridor followed by some pretty impressive looking suitcases. We did group hellos and were introduced to Zach and Katy. They had quite a tour planned, from here they were heading to Liverpool to fit in the Beatles tour and a trip to Anfield as Zach was mad on Liverpool FC, then off to London, Paris and Rome. Battling jetlag, they only had half an hour with us before getting a taxi to catch the train to Liverpool. It was great to see Dave and Maddie again, however briefly, but we knew we would catch up again in Ensisheim in a few weeks so waved them on their way and wished them a great trip.

Geoff and Steve doing their thing on stage :-)

Geoff and Steve doing their thing on stage 🙂

The Sunday visitor count was down on Saturday but we were still kept busy throughout the day. It also meant that we could all have a wander around and I managed to get to see Geoff and Steve’s talk too. Matt had also brought along a piece of his space memorabilia collection, a wiring panel lid from the STS 3 Space Shuttle loading bay that was actually mission flown. As Jack Lousma was there it was an opportunity too good to miss to get the panel signed and inscribed by the very man who had flown the STS 3 Space Shuttle! Matt as you can imagine was rather pleased!

Jack Lousma signing and inscribing Matt's Space Shuttle panel  from the STS 3 shuttle which Jack captained!

Jack Lousma signing and inscribing Matt’s Space Shuttle panel from the STS 3 shuttle which Jack captained!

The day before I had briefly met Steve Rogers (Lach) a long-time pal of Geoff Notkin’s from his punk rock days and founder of the anti-folk movement. Lach was there with his son whom I had given a small Campo meteorite, not realising who he was and that with his dad being friends with Geoff he probably already had a few meteorites. Whether or not that was the case, it was appreciated and he seemed very pleased with his celestial gift. When Lach came by our display again on the Sunday he asked if I would be OK to be interviewed for possible use on his Radio 4 program ‘The Lach Chronicles’ again, no probs and away we went. Off the cuff and unprepared, I hope he was happy with the end result.

Due to having a long drive ahead of him, Luther left early and by 4pm, myself, Graham and Matt began to take down the rest of the display. Still on a high from the weekend’s activities this was no chore and between the three of us we soon had our cars packed. In fact we were done so quickly that we managed to get time to sit in on the Astronauts question panel, which proved to be very interesting. One of the topics being discussed was how the astronauts performed basic bodily functions in space and this led to some hilarious accounts of the various toilet facilities on the different missions. We were told about the ‘training toilet’ that was fitted with an upwardly pointed camera to ensure that users were sitting in the correct position! It was pointed out that prior to sitting down you made sure not to look down so you were not identified before performing your duty! It was clear from this panel how driven they were and just how much these brave folk had put on the line to go where they had gone and do what they had done. It was also apparent just how down to earth and matter of fact they were about just what they had achieved and gone through, they really are some truly awe inspiring individuals.

Nick Howes hosting the Astronaut Q&A session.

Nick Howes hosting the Astronaut Q&A session.

In the days and weeks after CosmicCon it began to sink in just how much fun we had actually had and how much of a success the event had been. For an inaugural event it had gone more than just smoothly and this was a testament to the organiser Richard Garner and all the volunteers and teams behind the different displays, and of course the amazing special guests. There were flurries of amazing comments on social media and visitors were having withdrawal symptoms as you would after a fantastic holiday that you didn’t want to end.

“And as for the BIMS table, #WOW #Outofthisworld is an understatement. Impressive well done guys”

“The meteorite experts were the best bit! I stood and listened at the stand for over an hour!”

We had met lots of new like-minded people and between the BIMS crew and the Meteorite Men we had obviously got some more folk hooked on amazing rocks from space. So all in all we had a blast and are looking forward to next year’s follow up event already.

After wading through all the entries to our competition I found that the nearest guess was only 6 grams off the actual weight. The meteorite we used weighed 1170 grams and the winning guess was 1164 grams made by Joe Coyle. Congratulations Joe, enjoy your meteorites!

Competition winner Joe Coyle with his meteorite prizes :-)

During the weekend, I as usual gave out some freebie meteorites to children who were particularly interested or who asked some good questions. After the show i was sent the photo below by Alex and Eico Neumann of their son Leo with his meteorite gift. What a brilliant photo!

Alex and Eico Neumann sent me this photo of their son Leo with his meteorite that i gave him at CosmicCon. He is obviously a space fiend like his mum and dad! :-)

Alex and Eico Neumann sent me this photo of their son Leo with his meteorite that i gave him at CosmicCon. He is obviously a space fiend like his mum and dad! 🙂

Following on from the buzz and positivity of the event, Richard soon announced that there was going to be a CosmicCon event in 2016 and launched a crowd funding effort to help secure some more amazing special guests. There are some brilliant rewards on offer for varying levels of donation and you can continue to pledge support here. This sort of event is very difficult and expensive to put on and every little bit of support helps, so if you enjoyed CosmicCon 2015 and want there to be a CosmicCon 2016 then please pledge what you can. Think of it as buying your tickets in advance.

So, hopefully it’s a question of ‘Au Revoir’ rather than ‘Goodbye’ and like the ISS flying over the horizon on it’s orbit around Earth we will meet again soon. Here’s to seeing you all at CosmicCon next year.

Oh, and about the Astronaut kidnap? It was nothing to do with me guv’nor and if those official looking men in black suits come asking again, I really don’t know what they are talking about…………..

To see all the photos from this event please see here

Further reading

Cosmic Con

Emergency Asteroid Defence Project (EADP)

Article in ‘Mancunian Matters’

Aerolite Meteorites

Steve Arnold 

Meteorite Men

Meteorite Hunters Unlimited

European Space Agency (ESA)

Manchester Astronomical Society (MAS)

Space Collective

Moonpans

Custom Cupcake Company

Al Worden

Jack Lousma

Kathy Thornton

Don Thomas

Lach

Appley Bridge Meteorite Book

Jurassic Jewellery

Awesome Astronomy

Dave Wilkinson (Action and events website)