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Exploring the Stardust at 2nd InterPlanetary Fest

The inaugural InterPlanetary Festival last year took place on the Railyard Plaza on a Thursday and Friday. For the second festival, the Santa Fe Institute has moved the festival to a weekend, and to locations in and around the Railyard Park. (Courtesy of Kimberly Corante/Santa Fe Institute)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Year One was “Genesis.” Year Two is “Stardust.”

The Santa Fe Institute’s code names represent the difference between last year’s inaugural InterPlanetary Festival and the direction for the institute’s 2019 event next weekend, June 14-16.

The first year was about establishing what it means to be interplanetary, says SFI President David Krakauer. This year’s further investigates what an interplanetary culture could be like.

“Stardust is more utopian,” he said. “It’s a more playful feel, I think.”

Santa Fe Institute’s InterPlanetary Festival is designed to host conversations about the future of Earth and other planets, while at the same time offering entertainment in the form of movies, music, art and literature. The festival is part of SFI’s larger InterPlanetary Project.

The inaugural festival was held on two weekdays in the north part of Railyard, around the Railyard Plaza with its iconic railroad water tank. This year, events have moved a bit south to the Railyard Park. Some film screenings and talks will be held for free in SITE Santa Fe’s auditorium.

An estimated 10,000 people – primarily from northern New Mexico and some neighboring states – came last year, according to festival director Caitlin McShea. She said the attendees were largely concentrated at the evenings events, like concerts and happy hour. Now that the festival is taking place over a weekend, she is hoping for similar attendance figures, but with visitorship spread over daytime hours, as well.

“Now we have all of that same stimuli from noon on, and a really great lineup,” she said. “So we’re hoping for a more distributed population.” She added that, so far, the festival has attracted more registrants from around the U.S., as well as some from other countries.

If 2018 was largely about the “thought experiment” of getting to another planet, with topics like the technology or machinery needed for long-term space travel or living away from Earth, then 2019 is more focused on how the human experience will be impacted by an interplanetary future.

“This year, we psyche ourselves up for the trip,” said McShea. “How do we live comfortably with each other? What’s an ideal social setting for a very small team? And that’s a hopeful, optimistic exploration this year. Very zealous.”

Exploring this idea, panel topics include how to physically and mentally prepare for achieving new feats of space exploration and how humans’ concept of time could change in space. There’s a world-building panel, which will address the types of issues authors have faced when trying to imagine new civilizations and what could be learned from that before trying to create one in real life. The panel will include Michael Drought, who Krakauer described as the leading scholar on J.R.R. Tolkien, and the authors of “The Expanse,” which was turned into a TV show by Syfy and Amazon.

The lineup also includes an Afro-futurist panel. “Imagine we didn’t have to make the same mistakes again based on what we now understand,” Krakauer said about this discussion. “Hopefully, we will understand, or sort of overcome – hopefully – a number of prejudices, but what if we could start again? What kinds of ideas would you want?”

The festival will host cryptocurrency and blockchain tutorials, which Krakauer said are meant to focus on how already existing technologies could contribute to the formation of new societies.

On the entertainment side, musical headliners include The Family Stone, a new iteration of Sly and the Family Stone with original member and saxophonist Jerry Martini and vocalist Phunne Stone, daughter of Sly, and original band member Cynthia Robison, who plays on Sunday night, June 16. On Saturday, June 15, Denver’s 40-person electronic group Itchy-O closes out the day’s events.

More space for art

With the festival in the Railyard Park this year, McShea and Krakauer said it has the space to host several art installations.

Don Kennell’s “Long View,” a 35-foot-tall polar bear installation, will be part of this year’s InterPlanetary Festival. “Long View” has been shown at Burning Man in Nevada and is a commentary on the impacts of climate change. (courtesy DKLA Design)

These include local artist Don Kennell’s “Long View,” a 35-foot-tall polar bear that acts as a symbol of the impact of climate change. At night, according to McShea, images of deep sea species also at risk in today’s environment will be projected on the bear’s white surface.

Another work, Thomas Ashcroft’s “Sky & Culture Pavilion,” allows participants to select from a menu of “sonic space experiences.”

The free movie screenings are a lineup sci-fi classics, short films and documentaries. The entire festival kicks off Friday evening with an outdoor screening of 1968’s original movie version of “Planet of the Apes,” which will be introduced by former LucasFilm editor and author J.W. Rinzler. Rinzler plans to bring behind-the-scenes images from the film to show beforehand, she said.

The Innovation and Idea Expo, highlighting interactive technology and art, will return this year in the Railyard Park. In the same tent as the Expo will be a podcast stage where different science shows, like “This Week in Science,” will host live tapings.

“We always said it’s science and hedonism,” McShea said of the activities. “And the hedonism element is really important. This is a celebration of how amazing this planet is and how amazing humans are to be at this point to even consider and therefore go off-planet.”

Santa Fe Institute President David Krakauer speaks at last year’s InterPlanetary Festival. This year’s event is June 14-16. (Courtesy of Kimberly Corante, Santa Fe Institute)

Building on this year’s “Stardust” idea, SFI plans to go in a different, darker direction for 2020. Krakauer explained that while the 2019 fest has a more joyous atmosphere tied to the human experience, they expect next year – codename “Voyager” – will focus on the idea of what it means to go beyond the comfort zone of one’s own solar system and be put there alone in the “great expanse” of space.

He and McShea said one of the exciting parts of preparing for these events in real time is that new research could be unveiled between now and June 2020 that impacts the types of conversations to come.

“Think about by the time Voyager comes around, we (could have) actually discovered life on another planet,” said Krakauer. “That would be interesting.”