A Look Back and a Look Forward


Looking back, 2015 was an incredible year for Space and Mars. I think that one day people will look back at the current time in the 2010’s as exciting for Space as the 1960’s – but this time the development is deliberate and for the long haul. Heavy lift launchers (yes, plural) are being developed, manned spacecraft (also plural) are nearing flight, re-usable boosters (also plural) were launched and recovered, and discoveries were made across the solar system from Mars to Pluto.

SpaceX went from a loss to an incredible return to flight, all within a span of 6 months, ending with a historic return to base of a perfectly re-usable first stage. I think this is the space travel equivalent of the computer chip and the steamship in terms of cost reduction – an innovation that will change the economics of space flight from the realm of government programs to ordinary commerce.

SpaceX First Stage Lander

I’ve been in the aerospace business for decades and seen many ideas of recoverable boosters come and go, and listened to how SpaceX’s ideas were “clever PowerPoint presentations that couldn’t be done” – but there it is sitting quietly on back on the pad in Florida! Unlike previous attempts at re-usability, such as the Space Shuttle, that required fleets of ships and armies of technicians to virtually rebuild the craft – and the engines – after each flight, the Falcon 9 booster was reportedly ready to fuel up and go again. This could get interesting.

NASA footage of Pluto

NASA demonstrated what they do better than anyone – jaw dropping execution of deep space exploration – with flybys of both Ceres and Pluto – both dethroned planets. (Ceres used to be the ninth planet in old 19th century school books before Pluto was discovered). Pluto was amazingly complex for a “frozen world”, and the data gathered during the brief New Horizons flyby will take months to download.

Even the department of energy got into the space act, with the first trial runs of Pu238 production in 30 years, in order to help NASA prepare for future deep space missions, including the 2020 Mars Rover.

And then in an unexpected turn, Congress even gave NASA $1.3 billion more than requested, to a total of $19.3 billion.

Garni Crater

Closer to our hearts, liquid water was confirmed below the surface of Mars – close enough to the surface be observed from space. Given that no natural body of water on Earth is devoid of life, this raises some exciting possibilities. As we learn more about how widespread easily accessible water is on Mars, the more NASA is moving to in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) using groundwater directly rather than the use of hydrogen brought from Earth combined with the Martian atmosphere, the process Bob Zubrin first brought up in The Case for Mars – a change that uses the recent discovery of water on Mars to simplify mission architecture and vehicle size.

Lastly, the Mars Curse was broken! At last, a big budget, top notch, well done, popular movie about Mars exploration, “The Martian“, came to theaters to positive reviews and box office. And it even was realistic – no aliens, zombies, or chattering monkeys (Robinson Crusoe on Mars anyone?).

There were some disappointments – the delay of InSight due to a leak in its drill cover from the planned 2016 launch is a big one.

If there were no failures, we wouldn’t be trying hard enough.

Next Year promises to keep the pace moving forward: Juno will orbit Jupiter – the first deep space probe without nuclear power, the Falcon 9 Heavy is expected to make it to flight, and ExoMars will (hopefully) launch to Mars. We’ll see if SpaceX will re-fly a returned booster, and we will be very close to the first manned launch form US soil in a long time – SpaceX’s dragon is expected to fly manned in early 2017.

We’re seeing a growing consensus that manned Mars missions are not only the logical ultimate destination of America’s space program, but a realistic near term one, and one we need to start preparing for… now! We could have at least four orbit capable US made manned space vehicles (Orion, Dragon, Dream Chaser, and the CTS-100) coming online, a continuous manned presence on the ISS, two heavy lift launchers (SLS and Falcon 9 Heavy) in development, several man-rated US designed rocket engines in production or development (as opposed to zero for the last few decades), instrumentation for the Mars 2020 lander – which will be part of the Mars Sample Return, as well as a Europa orbiter in development. Curiosity, Opportunity , MRO, and all of its friends are still on station and in operation. What will the find in 2016?

It is a good time for space…..

Closer to home, the National Mars Society had a great convention in DC, and seems to have settled on the location (the National Catholic University) as we will have it there next year – I think the first time we will ‘double up’ on locations. The date will be later in the year in order to better suit students (and bring cooler weather!). It was a great convention, with top-line speakers and debates ranging from Mars One to Viking data results. It was good to see April and the crowd from McClellan again!

Our Moon (Mars) Day exhibit was another popular hit with another record attendance – and we expect 2016 to be even more so. Looking forward to working all the ideas to make it even better.

Photos from the University Rover Challenge

The University Rover Challenge had another record setting year, with 40 teams registering and over 20 showing up. This year we have over 60! URC is expanding across the globe, and for the first time we will split the competition into two classes to handle the crowd. We need more volunteers not only to go to Hanksville but to help during the year (hint hint!).

The Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair was fantastic, as it always is, and we had a first group outing to see the Martian together. Overall, it was an active and productive year!

Besides all the ideas for group outings, we may bring in more ‘outside’ speakers to our meetings – don’t miss this January’s meeting (Jan 31) for a discussion on ‘Hilton Hotels in Space’.

May this year be even better than the last!


Webmaster’s note: I also updated the theme of the website and improved the commenting system with Disqus. – Greg

Quarterly Summary for 2015Q2


While we have been active as a group, I have been remiss in summarizing all that we are doing to the broader audience. So Kris and I have written a summary of our activities year to date for all. I hope this is helpful in keeping everyone ‘in the loop’. we plan to put these out on a approximately quarterly basis.

Our group continues to have a high pace, with regular meetings, outreach, and activities. We’ve been meeting monthly, with 6 – 10 members, at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Plano , TX . We meet the last Sunday of the month at 6:30 if anyone would like to join us. We’ve discussed a wide range of topics and ideas dealing with the latest findings on Mars, Space and Mars exploration, and our own group’s plans for outreach.

Our group remains active at the local and national level. Activity by members included:

  • A talk on ‘Mars – the Next Frontier’ as a speaker at both the gifted girls and gifted boys at SMU. These 7th graders came from gifted student programs throughout the Metroplex to hear talks on a variety of topics. Both sets of talks were attended by over 60 students.
  • Our group awarded prizes for the best Mars and Space related projects for the 3rd year in a row at the Dallas County Science Fair at Fair Park , sending three members as judges. We saw an amazing variety of science projects from the Dallas area. There were approximately 1000 teams in total in junior and senior high categories, each already a winner from their school. We gave out the ‘Curiosity Award’, our top award with a cash prize, to a project on detecting star brightness using amateur telescopes. We were really struck by the winner’s enthusiasm, technical clarity, and the project’s relevance to space exploration. In addition we gave several honorable mentions. One went to a pair of students who worked on a helicopter vortex lift loss experiment – the experiment was excellent and the presentation exceptionally clear. Another honorable mention went to a student who had worked on a novel way to filter clean water using used cloth instead of heavy sand. While the idea came from the student’s personal experience in a 3rd world country, filtration of clean water with light weight filters is of great interest for manned space exploration. We also gave an honorable mention to a junior high team for work regarding crater patterns from meteorite impacts.

The University Rover Competition is preparing for a record turnout in late May, which our group helps volunteer with. Approximately 40 teams applied, and prepared both an initial proposal and a critical design review proposal and video, from which the top 23 teams were selected to compete at Hanksville. This should be an incredible year!

The whole Dallas Mars Society team is gearing up for an even more incredible Moon Day (Mars Day!) at the Frontiers of Flight Aviation Museum. Our popular rover course will be back, with a refurbished rover, and modified crater obstacle. A new glove box is in the works to give a feel for working with astronaut gloves. We are working on a 3-D printed rover, giveaways, and more!

There has been such a flurry of activity, it is hard to keep up with the space and Mars related news.

SpaceX got closer (but still not there yet!) on its 3rd attempt to land and recover the Falcon 9 first stage. Economically recoverable space launch hardware has been a goal of space flight since Von Braun, but now it looks like we may be on the cusp of it actually happening! Best of luck with the next one!

SpaceX is also on the brink of the abort system test for its manned version of the Dragon capsule. There are now four manned space vehicles in development in the US (SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Blue Origin), two of which, SpaceX’s Dragon, and the NASA / Lockheed Martin Orion, are explicitly designed to enable manned missions beyond earth orbit and to Mars.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted what may be evidence of near surface liquid water on Mars – kept liquid by the perchlorate salts in the soil. Curiosity may have seen first hand close up evidence of it right on the surface.

NASA flight tested above Earth an inflatable re-entry shield explicitly designed to land the heavier payloads onto Mars needed for manned exploration. This was championed by Bobby Braun when he was chief technologist at NASA – long time members may remember Professor Braun came and talked at our Mars Track at the Dallas ISDC a few years back.

Messenger wrapped up its mission around Mercury, and New Horizons is nearing Pluto. We’ve had a flyby of Ceres, and a landing on a comet.

NASA has a Mars Sample Return as their number one deep mission space priority, and the latest proposed deep space mission for the SLS was a sample return from one of the moons of Mars – a step closer than the asteroid redirect mission. How far we have come!!

Even controversial stories such as a recent paper published about the adverse affects of cosmic radiation on the brain centers on a common theme: people are talking seriously about sending people to Mars!

I’ll try to give an update about every 3 months – the next one should be after the URC, Moon Day, and Convention, so stay tuned!!!”


Meeting Sun March 30


A long month, but it is time again! This Sunday, I hope to see you all at the Spaghetti Warehouse at Plano, 6:30 pm, Sunday, March 30th (yes, I know it is the season finale of the Walking Dead, but sacrifices must be made!)

Aeola Mons Crater on Mars

Curiosity is working its way towards the final push up Aeolis Mons in Gale Crater. New data is out on radiation exposure on and on the way to Mars. And we have seen new impetus towards US based launch vehicles due to world events, even as the ISS operations stays above (figuratively as well as literally) above the fray.

Closer to home, we have convention and Moon Day planning, URC coming up, T-shirt ideas (yes, that time of year again)… For the T-shirts I think we need to have some internal discussion about alternate vendors or price hikes, as we barely broke even last year.

There is a lot to talk about, and lots to do! See you Sunday!


July 2012 Meeting Minutes


A lot of activity has happened in the last few months! We had the University Rover Competition in late May, Moon Day on July 21, and the Mars Society National Convention and flawless MSL landing in early August.

Our July meeting was held in the midst of this – just after Moon Day and just before the convention and MSL landing. Seven people were in attendance, including Ron, a retired engineer who dropped in. We enjoyed you coming by and hope you come again!

It was a bit crowded this month as it was national lasagna day – at least at the spaghetti warehouse, so the place was packed. We did not get the back room or even our usual quiet section in the back of the restaurant.

We went over the Moon Day presence, going over our success, and thinking of ways to make it even more dynamic next year.

We also reviewed the upcoming national convention. Tom handed me our banner to hand carry to Pasadena. Dan went over the T-shirt orders – we agreed to get 60 (I ended up selling all but 6, plus 6 of the older ones), and wrote out the check to give to National in memory of Roger Carr.

We also discussed the evolving rules for the University Rover Competition. I can’t go into all the details in an open forum, but it looks like we’re gong to mix it up a bit and add a dynamic new challenge for the upcoming year.

Another good meeting! With MSL on the ground, and the convention and moon day behind us, we can rest and celebrate our accomplishments, and think of what to do next….

See you in August on the 26th!


Moon Day – July 21, 2012


A brief (and late!) note on our very successful Moon Day this past July 21.

The group came out in force, with at least six regulars manning our table. Improving from our initial appearance last year, we had a dynamic and interactive exhibit with Tom’s MSL rover, mat sized map of Mars, and TV coverage, along with Dan and Mark’s crater obstacle. Many kids came over to try our rover.

Being that we had a rover, we were placed near the other robots, but we still got a lot of traffic from the public as well as admirer’s from other robotics groups. We the only rover that was remotely controlled via camera link, and the only map and obstacle course!

We learned a lot and overcame a number of obstacles, including the camera battery running out quickly – causing an ensuing mad rush to get more batteries! Tom’s ‘satellite eye view’ overhead camera worked remarkably well, giving a clear view of our very realistic looking MSL rover.

As always, we can think of ways to make our exhibit even better for next year – a subject for next month’s meeting, now only two weeks away. But thanks to everyone for their efforts, time, and energy, and especially to Tom for his dedication and drive in making our Moon Day happen.


Curiosity Data Shows Mars Surface Cosmic Ray Radiation Dose Rates Acceptable for Human Explorers

Measurements by the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity show that the galactic cosmic ray (GCR) radiation dose rates on the surface of the Red Planet are about half those that RAD measured during its interplanetary cruise.

Interplanetary GCR dose rates were previously measured by the MARIE instrument aboard the Mars Odyssey spacecraft during its cruise to the Red Planet in 2001 and shown to be about twice that experienced in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  Thus, in combination, the MARIE and RAD results show that Mars surface GCR dose rates are about the same as those experienced by astronauts in LEO. This mean that GCR doses will not be a show-stopper for the human exploration of Mars.

To view a graph of radiation measurements published by the Curiosity RAD team, please click here.

Please note that the MARIE authors report interplanetary GCR dose rates ranging from 0.28 Sv (28 rem) to 0.73 Sv (73 rem) per year.  Taking the 50 rem/year average of these figures as an interplanetary dose baseline, it can be estimated that a human Mars mission which spends 6 months flying to Mars (as Odyssey did in 2001), 18 months on the Martian surface, and 6 months flying back to Earth would receive a total GCR dose of 88 rem.  Such a dose is estimated to represent a statistical risk of about a 1 percent chance of getting a fatal cancer sometime later in life, assuming no advance in medical technique and would therefore represent a modest portion of the risk faced by astronauts on a human Mars mission.  Furthermore, it has already been received by a number of astronauts and cosmonauts working on the ISS or Mir space stations without incidence of cancer among any of them.

It is therefore now confirmed that hypothetical radical new propulsion systems enabling much faster transit times to Mars and/or the ability to leave the Red Planet regardless of launch windows will not be needed to enable human Mars exploration.  With its first important results, Curiosity has slain the mythical radiation dragon previously barring the way to Mars.

The Mars Society

2012 convention and MSL landing


This is a quick note about our chapter’s participation in the 2012 Mars Society Convention and MSL landing. We can go into more detail at our next monthly meeting. I know i also owe a status report on our last monthly meeting and our very successful Moonday on July 21!! I have been super busy between Mars Society and work, but no excuses! coming soon!

The convention was, in a word, fantastic. The venue was convenient, Pasadena beautiful, the weather pleasant (you could walk outside without a blast furnace of heat!!), the convention smoothly executed, the speakers incredible, the experience unforgettable.

We watched a countdown to MSL’s landing via live feed, seeing Adam Steltzner, lead of the engineers at JPL in the Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) team on TV after having seen him that very day at he convention, and we joined in cheering wildly when we got word real time that MSL had landed.

We ran our T-shirt table, selling most (!!) of our T-shirts, as well as some old ones and not a few of Pam’s trinkets and Mimi and Roger’s budget beads. Tom gave an interesting talk on some old Mars mission profiles – the background on Von Braun’s 1950’s era plan to land with gliders in Mars’s ‘thick nitrogen atmosphere’ was both fascinating and totally new to me. Kris attended virtually every talk and track, taking reams of notes, as well as helping out with the T-shirt table and, of course, formatting the convention program everyone was using.

Tom, Donna, and Emily deserve a special mention for manning the main convention registration table for most of the convention. Without them, the convention would not have come off.

And, during the banquet, i was honored to present our check for $300 directly to Bob Zubrin in Roger’s memory. Roger was with us in spirit.

Over all, a great experience. Next year, we can look forward to hearing just what MSL has discovered!!


March Meeting Minutes

Yes, a bit late, but here are the March meeting minutes.

We had 8 in attendance, including Donna dropping in to give an update on the debate team’s progress. They sound like they are doing well and more than holding their own in the back and forth in the tough final written rounds. We should hear the results from the final oral arguments in NYC in the next meeting!

We were all saddened to hear of Roger Carr’s passing a few weeks ago, and the society chapter agreed to donate $200 of the chapter’s funds to the National Mars Society in his memory at the next convention. we will miss Roger in Pasadena.

We discussed preparations for a variety of upcoming events, including Tom’s search for a rover for moon day, possibly getting a Mars globe for our table, and Tom showed us some first class draft posters he made. This will draw attention to our table, and we can use it in other locations (like our monthly meetings!), outreach events, and the T-shirt table at the national convention!. We agreed to use $100 of chapter funds towards a display stand, with Tom agreeing to cover any charges above that (thanks Tom!).

Mark has been working with Tom to refine the poster image, and we hope to have a final version for the next meeting.

Other upcoming events include supporting the University Rover Challenge at MDRS in late May – it looks like Kurt and Kris are going to take the plunge and go – a first to MDRS for both of us. Kurt was gearing up for his annual talk to the gifted students program at SMU, and we discussed T-shirt designs.

We’ll hear progress on these fronts and more at next month’s meeting! We will gather together next week on Sunday, April 29 at the Spaghetti Warehouse on rt 75 and 15th street in Plano at 6:30. same time – same same place!

We hope to have a final version of our display poster, and discuss other preparations for our Moon Day display, such as a rover!

Also we should get a final report on the local debate team’s performance in the NYC finals from Tom.

Kris and Kurt have committed to going to support the annual University Rover Competition at the MDRS hab in Hanksville, Utah in late May (but after our May meeting).

Kurt will give a outbrief of the talk at the SMU gifted boys program for 7th graders (my talk on Mars – it went very well, and had over 60 students in one session).

We also need to start on T-shirt designs and orders in earnest….

Mars continues to be in the news, or rather the threat to the entire Mars exploration budget for the next several years. NASA looks to be trying to push any new starts in Mars exploration out to beyond 2018, but the fight continues in congress. I’m sure we’ll hear more from Bob at the convention. In the meantime MSL continues its travel to Mars flawlessly, and MAVEN – the next and last planned US Mars mission – an orbiter looking at Mars’s atmosphere, is preparing for a 2013 launch.

The sign up for the Pasadena conference is open – I hope we can have a big turnout to see MSL land! This will be the biggest Mars event for many a year – i am looking forward to savoring it.


ZUBRIN: Obama shoots down Mars exploration

Space community outraged as real missions are replaced by simulated science

In its budget submitted to Congress Feb. 13, the Obama administration zeroed out funding for NASA’s future Mars exploration missions. The Mars Science Lab Curiosity is en route to the red planet, and the nearly completed small Maven orbiter, scheduled for launch in 2013, will be sent, but that’s it. No funding has been provided for the Mars probes planned as joint missions with the Europeans for 2016 and 2018, and nothing after that is funded, either. This poses a crisis for the American space program.

Continue Reading at Washington Times