CONvergence Apollo 11 Panel

So, as I have been doing for the last 9 or 10 years, I went out to Minnesota for the CONvergance Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, this year. It’s an awesome con that has become my favorite. For about 5 years I have been sitting on Panels in areas where I feel I have something to offer. More often than not that is on Star Trek panels (I was on 2 this year), general tech panels, and recording panels (for podcasting and such). This year, I was also on the Apollo 11 panel.

I’ve been a real life space geek, in addition to Sci-Fi my whole life. My dad worked at an aerospace contractor, so these kinds of things were always discussed at the dinner table. The very company my dad worked for built hardware that actually flew to the moon.

So as you can imagine, I was really looking forward to this panel for obvious reasons. At the last minute they put Nancy Atkinson on it. She just wrote a book about Apollo. How cool is that?

The other panelists included two astronomers, a Moderator, and me.

I don’t have any credentials I could put on a resume about the topic, but I spent about a decade of my life doing deep dives into rabbit holes on the subject, reading every book I could find, and hanging around on the usenet. In short, I know my stuff.

The panel started with “Walter” (not his real name… oh wait, YES IT IS) the mod, doing some show & tell. He brought a couple of books with him to show everyone. So he spoke about them briefly and then turned to his right (to the rest of the panel) with a look on his face that said “TAKE IT AWAY!”

At most cons, the culture is that the Mod is there not as a panelist, but to guide the panel. Not that contributing as a panelist is forbidden. Generally, I expect Mods to be at least somewhat well prepared.
An outline, or perhaps even a sentence or two scribbled on the back of a McDonalds receipt… something, ANYTHING that will help guide, and give direction to the panel. He just brought the books, held them up to the crowd, and said something like, “I just read these and you should, too.” Then he basically looked to his right and waited for us to talk.

It’s a good thing that there were some people on the panel with deep knowledge about the subject, else things could have really gone awry.

Nancy obviously had lots of cool stuff to say, and I contributed where I felt it was appropriate. As an aspie I can sometimes dominate subjects I am passionate about, but as I’ve matured I’ve learned to moderate that. I made sure I didn’t talk too much.

One of the anecdotes I shared was about an ex-girlfriend’s grandfather. During WW2, he was in the OSS (this would eventually become the CIA) and he was one of the agents who escorted the German rocket scientists to the US. Yes, he escorted THAT scientist, Werner Von Braun to the US, and in fact lived next door to him in Huntsville Alabama at the Marshall Space Flight Center. I suspect the OSS did that just to keep a close eye on all of them.

It never really struck me as odd that my ex-girlfriend’s mom grew up in Huntsville. I mean it’s a city, and people live there. I never thought to ask about NASA or anything when I was dating her daughter, but this was around the time when I was doing massive NASA deep dives, and one would think she HAD to have heard me talk about this, and it might have occurred to her to tell me that she grew up next to Von Braun, that she used to go to his house, that Werner’s wife would make strudel for her, and that Werner himself called her his little Liebchen. And I have seen photographic evidence that supports all of this. So as you can imagine, when she told me this, it blew my mind, just as it blew the minds of the people who attended the panel.

I also talked about my dad working at Bendix, and actually helping to build hardware that flew on Apollo.

So, while the panel wasn’t the worst panel I have ever seen/been on, thanks to the strength of some of the panelists, I also think it wasn’t as good as it could/SHOULD have been. At the end of the day I
thought it was “OK,” but considering the strength of the source material I feel the Mod left a lot of awesomeness on the table, that a better Mod would have utilized for the benefit of the panel.

It was still fun, and the alcohol helped (you can see it in the pic!) :slight_smile: All in all I’d give the panel a B- .

I’m looking forward to seeing what the attendees have to say. In a month or so when all panel comments have been collected, they send the panelists those notes for us to see, and hopefully improve. I’ll post those when I get them.


An interesting experience, thanks for sharing. I find that I can’t usually launch into something without some kind of prompting, so I’d really need a good moderator or interviewer to set me off. I once met with Jason Scott, with the intent of having, or following up with, an interview about the 6502 for his (never finished) documentary of the same name. But the interview never happened, so I guess I wasn’t spontaneously interesting. And it might be that I’d make a bad subject even in the best case.

I would expect there will be some gold in the notes from the panel. Most things we see are heavily edited, and for good reason.

Thanks for the link to Nancy Atkinson’s blog!

NASA have an online book
Computers in Spaceflight: The NASA Experience

The second chapter of the first part is apposite:
Chapter Two: Computers On Board The Apollo Spacecraft
as might be
Part III : Ground Based Computers for Space Flight Operations

Yes. Moderating is a special skill that not everyone necessarily has. I’m sure this guy is a good guy, doesn’t kick puppies, and has an interest in the topic, but he should not be modding panels. EVER.

It was fun meeting Nancy. We talked for a bit on several different occasions. She signed a book for me, which was cool.