COLORADO SPRINGS – The 36th annual Space Symposium expects to attract 7,500 to 8,000 attendees to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs and a virtual platform streaming presentations and discussions.
In spite of travel restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, people from 25 countries and the leaders of at least 15 international space agencies are expected to travel to Colorado Springs for the annual event showcasing military, civil and commercial space activities.
The Space Foundation, host of the annual event, is continuing to track local, state and federal health and safety guidelines in an effort to mitigate attendee risk and potential exposure to the coronavirus.
“We’re going to do everything we can to address those risks, but we also asked our attendees to be a part of that process,” Space Foundation spokesman Rich Cooper told SpaceNews.
Attendees at the Broadmoor will be required to wear masks indoors. The Space Foundation also is working with the Broadmoor to facilitate social distancing by providing additional seating and viewing areas.
When prominent speakers are at the podium, “we understand everybody likes to be in the room,” Cooper said. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure everybody feels as much a part of that room as possible. The extensions that we’ve made with the virtual platform as well as the additional viewing areas that we have set up around the Broadmoor campus will facilitate people being able to get information as it happens.”
This will be the first Space Symposium to feature exhibits in the Broadmoor’s new 90,000 square foot hall. People viewing 265 or more exhibits will enter and exit through specially designated doors to prevent crowding.
“The Broadmoor and all of our vendors have been great partners in operating in a very different atmosphere than what we’ve ever operated in before,” Cooper said. “We have a standard that we have set from our own previous programs, but that standard has had to evolve in this new environment.”
In 2019, approximately 15,000 people attended the Space Symposium. The Space Foundation said it cannot estimate the number of people who will be on-site this year because the numbers continue to change.
Representatives from NASA, the U.S. Space Force, U.S. Air Force, Space Command, U.S. Navy, National Reconnaissance Office and the Pentagon’s Space Development Agency will be traveling to the Broadmoor.
No one from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be on site, a NOAA spokesman said.
Many organizations are sending fewer people than they have in past years. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will be there, but Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy and Associate Administrator Bob Cabana do not plan to travel to Colorado Spring.
For people around the world who frequently attend Space Symposiums, COVID-19 travel rules have created obstacles. European citizens, for example, need to obtain national interest exemptions from the U.S. State Department to enter the country. As a result, the 2021 event is expected to have far less international participation than previous Space Symposiums.
The 36th Space Symposium was initially scheduled to begin March 30, 2020. When the coronavirus began spreading in the United States, the Space Foundation rescheduled it for Oct. 31, 2020. As the pandemic continued to disrupt events and travel, the event was again rescheduled for August 2021 with a hybrid live and virtual format.
A few weeks ago, August seemed like it would be an excellent time for the event because many people who normally attend the Space Symposium had access to vaccines and travel restrictions were easing.
Once the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant began to spread in the United States and doctors discovered that vaccinated people could become infected and could spread the virus to others, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended masks for public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission. Transmission rates are determined by two statistics: the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and the percentage of people in an area who have tested positive over the previous seven days.
For El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, transmission is high based on an average of 168 daily cases per 100,000 people and a 7.48% positivity rate as of Aug. 19, according to El Paso County Public Health. Nearly 64.6 percent of the people who reside in El Paso County who are eligible for vaccines have received at least one dose, compared with 70.4 percent nationwide.
Although thousands of people are expected to gather at the Broadmoor as in previous years, the 2021 event is likely to be unique.
Companies are not bringing massive displays like Lockheed Martin’s full-scale Orion capsule mockup on display in 2019, Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser in 2018 or Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster and crew capsule in 2017.
“We’ve allocated that space to be open to allow people to gather outside to meet, connect and partner,” Cooper said. “With the addition of the new exhibit space this year, we are able to accommodate more exhibitors and also some larger displays.”
The continually shifting pandemic has “allowed us to think truly creatively about how to retain the absolute core that people are expecting and adapt it into a different environment,” Cooper said. “That is what we have been doing since we had to postpone last year. Fortunately, we have a vaccine and we know a lot more about things we can do to mitigate risk and exposure to COVID.”