NEW YORK While the stars on display at most upfront events are TV celebrities, the National Geographic Channel presented a crowd of 400 media buyers with stars of the celestial variety. Kiera Hynninen, senior vice president of marketing for the channel, and J. B. Miller of Empire Entertainment planned a space-theme event at Skylight to promote the channel's space-related programming.
Waiters in NASA uniforms greeted guests as they entered Skylight through a door bordered by the network's trademark yellow open rectangle logo. Walls covered in backlit fabric with thousands of small holes produced the effect of a starry sky. The space capsule from the movie Apollo 13, brought in from California, served as the event's visual focal point along with a lunar rover and astronaut display, and two bars washed with blue and red light mimicked the moon and Mars.
But the focus of the event was an assortment of interactive activities. The “Astronaut Challenge"—a square truss structure in which guests were suspended in harnesses—simulated a zero-gravity space walk. Team Events supplied an orbitron similar to the ones used in the Russian space program, which spun guests around to produce the same zero-gravity effect along with a degree of dizziness. (This activity was noticeably less crowded as the night wore on and more cocktails were consumed).
Dr. Leroy Chiao, a retired NASA astronaut who recently completed a tour aboard International Space Station, operated a shuttle simulator. Next to it was a flight simulator in the form of a miniature plane. Those who wished to remain grounded entered the Learning Technologies Inc.'s Star Lab Planetarium: an inflatable planetarium where a speaker pointed out constellations and answered questions.
Offering up first-hand info to guests were real-life astronauts and scientists. Dr. Max Bernstein of NASA's Ames Research Center projected photos of three separate missions on the wall and gave guests a chance to hold space materials such as pieces of the moon. Veteran astronaut and MIT professor of aeronautics Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman displayed a life-size model of a new astronaut biosuit. To promote the channel's special Is It Real?, Dr. Seth Shostak of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence deflected skepticism of alien life.
Empire spent four months conceptualizing and researching to make the event as close to reality as possible. “It was quite a challenging event to execute because National Geographic demands authenticity, and NASA couldn't support the event because it was for commercial enterprise. We had to create everything from scratch,” Miller said. “Basically, we created our own space and astronaut program.”
Upfront Has Fun, Games, and Live Bears