The 28th annual Contact conference convenes today at the SETI Institute, with a full roster of speakers discussing the science behind science fiction. The conference opened with SETI’s own Seth Shostak, host of the NPR radio program Big Picture Science. What makes the Cultures of the Imagination Conference unique among meetings of space professionals is the balance between the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences, with experts in biology, physics, and engineering, along with those trained in anthropology, linguistics, sociology, and more, coming together to share information and ideas on technology, trends, and recent literature on the topics. As an educator and artist, I am most looking forward to a presentation by Dr. Kathleen D. Toerpe. As a research and applied ‘astosociologist,’ Toerpe investigates the ways that individuals and societies react and respond to space exploration and the implications of those responses here on Earth. Toerpe focuses on how studying these human responses may help mitigate social and cultural conflict.  Learn more at