Iowa Ideas 2021
Letter from the Executive Editor

Zack Kucharski, Executive Editor, The Gazette

When little kids get asked what they want to be when they grow up, astronaut is a regular profession atop the list. Millions of us dream it, only a tiny fraction ever become one.

I know because tucked between my childhood dreams of train engineer and meteorologist, astronaut was on my list, too.

My dream probably lasted longer than some... if the film photos of pre-teen me and my week at U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., are any indication. I still have the pictures of the rocket park, astronaut meals and the 1/6 gravity chair from the week-long experience.

That spark of youthful, eager energy returned this year during a planning call with Peggy Whitson, our keynote for this year’s Iowa Ideas virtual conference, which will be held online Oct. 14-15

Whitson, an Iowa native who carved her own path to space, spent a total of 665 days in space, more than any other U.S. astronaut and more than any woman in the world.

She’s consulting — and training — to push the envelope further as she consults with Axiom Space on the first commercial space flight to the International Space Station set for next year. She’s also training as the backup commander.

As we did a prep call for the conference earlier this year, it was a challenge not to revert into my pre-teen self and ask all sorts of questions about being in space.

She’s lived in a world that many of us can only imagine. Her story is validation that lessons learned in some of Iowa's smallest schools and in Iowa farm fields can lead us to develop skills and dreams taking us anywhere — including into space.

Few of the topics we talk about at Iowa Ideas are one-dimensional or easy to solve. With a little imagination, learning and hard work, boundaries come down and barriers are broken.

This year’s conference will feature our richest array of topics and speakers yet. We’re also excited to welcome University of Iowa visiting professor David Gould, who spends his time re-imagining systems and helping folks find meaning, and Harvard senior research fellow Thomas Abt, who looked at urban violence solutions in his book “Bleeding Out.”

The following pages of this magazine address some of the topics and themes that will make up the 2021 Iowa Ideas Conference. To see the full schedule and to register, please visit

This year’s online conference is free, meaning you can attend from anywhere in the world. Heck, maybe there’s a way to do it from space, too — as long as you register in advance.

Zack Kucharski

Executive Editor, The Gazette

Director, Iowa Ideas 2021 Virtual Conferencee

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