I'm off to see the wizards

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Comic-Con began in 1970 with an attendance of 300. // Comic-Con International
Yep, wizards — plural. And dragons. And time lords. And Jedi. And every other kind of creature ever imagined in an environment I can describe only as the world’s greatest pop-culture convention.

The 46th incarnation of San Diego Comic-Con International starts Thursday, July 9, and runs through Sunday the 12th, with a preview night Wednesday, July 8, for professionals, exhibitors, and press. This will be my third visit to Comic-Con, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Comic-Con started in 1970 as a three-day gathering called the Golden State Comic-Con. That event drew 300 people, and they were desperate for attendees. This year, attendance will exceed 150,000, and more than that number couldn’t get a ticket even for a single day!

I’ve done a couple other “pre-convention” blogs for the Comic Cons I’ve been to, so I thought this year I’d let the panelists describe what they were bringing to the convention in their own words. I hope to attend many, if not all, of these panels. Let’s get the two biggies (which will occur in the same meeting room back to back) out of the way first.

NASA came to Comic-Con for the first time in 2014. Everyone who represented the space agency was blown away by the positive reception from fans. // NASA
The upcoming movie The Martian will make its presence felt at Comic-Con, both on its own and as part of NASA panels. // 20th Century Fox
NASA: Turning Science Fiction into Science Fact
Science fiction has caused many of us to fall in love with the limitless possibilities of space exploration. Throughout its history, NASA has been inspired by science fiction and conversely has influenced it. Today, NASA is turning our imaginations into reality. Scientists are exploring potentially life-harboring worlds in our solar system while also discovering thousands of new planets orbiting distant stars, some of which may be Earth-like. This moderated discussion will be accompanied by a special greeting from the International Space Station and a heartfelt tribute to Leanard Nimoy. Participating panelist include executive producer Aditya Sood (The Martian), Adam Nimoy (producer), Amber Straughn (astrophysicist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and Kevin Hand (deputy chief scientist for Solar System Exploration, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory). Moderated by actor Jay R. Ferguson (Madmen).

NASA: Journey to Mars
America’s space agency is leading the world on a journey to the Red Planet. From the current orbiters and rovers that are making historic scientific discoveries to the development of the largest and most powerful rocket ever conceived by humans, NASA is pushing the final frontier to the planet that has been the subject of conjecture and the focus of the search for life beyond our home planet. The agency plans an enlightening discussion moderated by Aditya Sood (executive producer, The Martian) featuring  some of NASA's best and brightest — Jim Green (director of planetary sciences, NASA Headquarters), Todd May (manager, NASA Space Launch System Program, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center), and Victor Glover (astronaut, NASA Johnson Space Center) — As well as author Andy Weir (The Martian), especially in light of NASA's involvement in the upcoming Ridley Scott motion picture The Martian.

The Science of Science Fiction: The Science Accuracy Pendulum
For science-fiction productions, there is an implied bargain between the screenwriter and the audience: Suspend your disbelief on one or two fantastic notions, and the rest of the story will be grounded in the believable. The genre is, in essence, predicated on the expectation of one or two key inaccuracies per story. In recent years, though, experts and fans alike have been nitpicking even the main story conceits of films like Gravity and Interstellar. From the “anything goes” storytelling approach of the 1950s and 1960s sci-fi, our panelists discuss whether or not the scientific accuracy pendulum of audience expectations has swung too far in the other direction. The panel will be moderated by Kevin Grazier, Ph.D. (science advisor for Defiance and Battlestar Galactica) and will feature psychologists Andrea Letamendi, Ph.D., and Jessica Cail, Ph.D., as well as Kevin Murphy (showrunner for Defiance and Caprica), Nicole Perlman (writer, Guardians of the Galaxy), Andre Bormanis (writer, Star Trek and Threshold), and Rick Loverd (program director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange).

Spectra: The Original Laser Superhero is a creation of Rebecca Thompsen, a member of the American Physical Society. // American Physical Society
Comics for Impact: STEM Education
Comics can be a powerful tool for teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), but they require collaboration between comic creators, scientists, and educators. The panel featuring Jorge Cham (PhD Comics), Dwayne Godwin (neuroscientist and professor, Wake Forest School of Medicine), Rebecca Thompsen (author, Spectra: The Original Laser Superhero), and Alan Gershenfeld (president, E-Line Media) discuss process and lessons learned from "serious games" to create a vibrant community of interest. Moderated by Russell Shilling (U.S. Dept of Education, former DARPA pm).

The Autobiography of James T. Kirk
William Shatner
(Star Trek: The Original Series) as James T. Kirk will read excerpts from The Autobiography of James T. Kirk. This in-world memoir chronicles the greatest Starfleet captain's life, including his boyhood on an Iowa farm, his youth spent on Tarsus IV, his time in Starfleet Academy, his meteoric rise through the ranks of Starfleet, and his illustrious career at the helm of the Enterprise. David Goodman (author, former Family Guy executive producer) moderates.

I know what you’re thinking: How does the last one tie in to science? Dude, he’s a starship captain! How can it not? OK, honestly, Mr. Shatner was kind enough to grant me an interview a couple Comic-Cons ago, so I want to support him all I can.

These five panels are just a start. I’ll be there for most of five days. Stay tuned as I report on the science I find … and some of the fun stuff, too!

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