AUSTIN (KXAN) — Astronauts, scientists and explorers are flying to Texas this weekend to discuss the future of life in space. They’re attending the New Worlds 2023 conference. The event will host discussions on space travel, award members of the science community and raise funds for Texas schools.

“This is Revenge of the Nerds, in a sense, right? I mean, this is, this is those kids who studied science and went into engineering, education tracks and those kinds of things, who are living the dream,” said Rick Tumlinson, founder of Earthlight Foundation and the New Worlds conference.

The event has been around since 2016. Past award recipients include Jeff Bezos and SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell. This year, Inspiration4 commander Jared Isaacman will be awarded the Space Cowboy award for his work in bringing civilians to space and raising money for cancer research.

“I generally feel very unworthy of any of these types of recognitions. I just know that it takes like an army to pull this off,” Isaacman said.

Awarding space travel

Inspiration4 launched in 2021. The mission was the first to be operated entirely by civilians in space. That crew included Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, a Physician Assistant and cancer survivor, Chris Sembroski, a veteran who now works for Blue Origin, and Dr. Sian Proctor, an artist.

Proctor will also be speaking at the New Worlds 2023 conference.

Gwynn Shotwell receives the Space Cowboy award from Rick Tumlinson. (Credit: Rick Tumlinson)

“You get to spend three days in orbit seeing the world from an incredible perspective. So it was, I mean, one of the best times in my life,” Isaacman said.

Not only did the crew spend three days in orbit but they raised upwards of $250 million for cancer research at St. Jude’s Research Hospital.

“It was actually after we came back that I really reflected on the best moments. The best moments were when we surpassed the fundraising goal for St. Jude and, and then really seeing everybody be themselves in space,” Isaacman said.

“When he had the chance to fly into space, he didn’t just take it himself. He invited three other people,” Tumlinson said.

Isaacman isn’t the only award recipient at this year’s event. Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry, Frank White, author of The Overview Effect, Teddy Tzanetos, who flew a helicopter on Mars, and Dr. Mark Wagner, author of Space Education, will also receive awards.

“We believe that as we break out and start going out there, people are gonna go in all kinds of directions,” Tumlinson said.

The possibilities of space

New Worlds 2023 will host a variety of sessions. “We have everything from hardcore space policy to sessions on inclusion, to sessions on empowering every gender to be able to be involved in space,” Tumlinson said.

The Space Cowboy Ball on Saturday night will not only be a costume ball but it will raise money to place telescopes in schools across the state.

“I don’t know if you remember the first time you look through a telescope. But it’s world-changing, literally world-changing.” Tumlinson said they’ve already placed telescopes in schools in Victoria, Texas.

Tickets are still available. You can register on New Worlds 2023 website. Prices start at $75. The event will be held at the Bullock Texas State Museum on Friday and Saturday.

What’s next for Issacman?

With the success of Inspiration4, Isaacman’s next mission will take him further than any previous commercial spacecraft. He will serve as Commander of the Polaris Dawn mission next year.

“Not everybody goes and climbed Mount Everest or was brave enough to cross the seas of the oceans, you know, hundreds of years ago, right? But when they do it, they do it for everyone,” Isaacman said about this and other missions.

Polaris Dawn Crew Visits St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Inspires Patients to Reach for the Stars. From left to right – Anna Menon, Scott Poteet, Jared Isaacman, Sarah Gillis (Photo: ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital)

The mission will test new space suits, attempt the first commercial space walk and perform tests on human health in deep space, where radiation is more abundant.