When dreams come true – speaking at Space City

Last weekend I had the pleasure to attend Space Up Toulouse, held at Space City in Toulouse, where I went to give a talk on the project I work for, the SKA telescope. Speaking there was quite a special thing for me.

SpaceUps are unconferences organised around the world by space enthusiasts. The Space Up community is made of professionals of the space sector, amateurs, students and space enthusiasts of all kinds who all share one thing: a passion for space, and a dedication to advancing humanity’s baby foot steps in space in their own way. And increasingly, astronomy is finding its niche in this forum. This time there were talks about ESO’s great observatories in Chile, about exoplanets, and other typical astro topics.

The Space Up community is a closely knit group of very active people on social media who are all passionate, positive people. For the space sector, it’s an alternative way to reach out to people directly, rather than through traditional media who have different audiences.

This was my second Space Up, after attending SpaceUp:UK in London in July. But this one was special. Space City – la Cité de l’Espace in French – is a huge park dedicated to space and astronomy in Toulouse in southern France, which is of course home to Airbus, Ariane, Cnes and others in a thriving aerospace sector. It’s got a full-size replica of the Russian MIR station and of Ariane 5 among many other exciting things, making it a fitting location for such an event.

The reason this was a special event for me is that I spent part of my childhood in the region, and in fact started observing the night sky from the clear and dark French countryside, not too far from Toulouse. This is where I got my first telescope, and I remember going to a specialised shop in Toulouse for equipment and eye pieces.

A bit further out, near Montpellier, I went on a two-week trip to a local observatory to learn the basic skills behind astro photography, at the time we were still using film and we learnt how to develop our own photos.

And when I was about 13, my parents took me to visit Space City, which left a deep impression on me. I remember being awed by all that was there.

And here I was nearly two decades later, invited to speak about the incredible telescope project I work for in front of an audience of space enthusiasts in this prestigious venue. What a ride to get there! Looking back, every single step makes senses and took me closer to my dream, even though I didn’t realise it at the time and it seemed more a random pattern of studies and events than a purposeful path. But there were many signs this weekend pointing to the right connections:

We were in the aptly-named Astralia building, where the City’s planetarium is located. And the documentary on show was none other than Hidden Universe, which I helped produce in my small way working for ESO in Chile by escorting and guiding the filmmaker to the Paranal Observatory.

And the invitation to speak came from my friend Brigitte, one of the organisers, whom I had met two years before in the same capacity, serving as her guide at the Paranal Observatory in the framework of ESO’s 50th anniversary.

Judging from people’s reactions, the talk was a great success, and I look forward to participating in future SpaceUps. The next one, SpaceUp Australia, will be on Sunday, and I’ll be speaking on the project from Perth via Skype.

Astronomy and space make a small world, and it’s amazing to see how far your dreams can take you!

And many thanks to the team behind SpaceUp Toulouse for a fantastic event!

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