Gemini and Apollo astronaut Jim McDivitt signed a photograph for Jedidiah Bates and his father Chuck during Spacefest 2013 at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort. This year’s Spacefest will again be at Starr Pass, starting Thursday, July 5.

Spacefest is a Tucson hidden gem and its organizers are hoping to increase its visibility among locals.

Once a year, astronauts, moonwalkers, astronomers, astronomical artists, space historians, authors, vendors and space fans of all stripes from around the planet gather under the Tucson sky for a multi-day galactic gathering that features a wide range of events — panel discussions, autograph sessions, movies, a banquet, space exhibits and demonstrations of all types.

This year’s Spacefest begins Thursday, July 5, and runs through Sunday, July 8, at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort. (See box for more details)

“We don’t have many locals, but we can pull a crowd from around the world,” said one Spacefest organizer.

Spacefest is the brainchild of the late Kim Poor, a renowned astronomical artist and co-founder and first president of the International Association of Astronomical Artists. The festival is produced by Novaspace, a Tucson space art gallery and astronaut memorabilia dealer operated by Poor’s family.

Spacefest has long served a niche community. “It’s been small enough that people connect with each other and on social media. They talk like it’s a family reunion,” said Poor’s wife, Sally.

After Poor’s death last August, however, the family was hesitant to pull another festival together. Slightly behind schedule, they eventually decided to carry on the tradition. “I think it will be bittersweet, because we have so much support from the Spacefest family,” his daughter Kelsey said.

But Poor’s family wants to take his legacy a step further. They’d like to expand the scope of the festival, ultimately reaching a more generalized audience and draw more support from the local community.

The Spacefest launch

“It was Kim’s idea to have a festival-type event,” Sally said.

In the late 1980s, Kim Poor met astronaut Alan Bean, a space artist and moonwalker who died earlier this year. Through Bean, Poor was introduced to more astronauts, scientists and artists. He spent much of his time mingling with those who would eventually become Spacefest’s core supporters.

“They all laughed when I said what I wanted to do,” Kim said on the Spacefest website. “It would be like a four-ring circus. Something for everyone.”

Poor was already an established space artist and running Novaspace when the family organized the first Spacefest in 2007.

Kim died almost 10 years later at 65 of Machado-Joseph disease, a form of the neurodegenerative disease ataxia.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
Spacefest evolves

The family was able to continue with the festival this year, but Kelsey hopes to secure Spacefest’s long-term future.

“Where are we going to be 10 years from now when there are no more Apollo astronauts?” she asked. “Right now we’re very focused on space history, but now we’ve got things like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic to consider.”

Kelsey has taken over promotion via social media and local outreach and has been reaching out to attract participants who are well known even outside of the space community.

“Space is cool, but someone off the street might not agree,” Kelsey said about trying to build a Spacefest event that would appeal to the general public. This year, Kelsey has recruited more vendors and speakers than previous events in hopes that it has even wider appeal than before.

“If you like space a little bit, or even if you don’t like space, come out,” she said. “You might find that you like space a lot.”

Contact Mikayla Mace at mmace@tucson.com or (520) 573-4158. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.