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!


Monthly Meeting May 26, 6:30PM at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Plano


Yes, another month has gone by, and our next monthly meeting is coming up. We will meet at the Spaghetti Warehouse at 6:30pm in Plano this coming Sunday, May 26 – same as usual!

We have a number of activities and news to discuss;

  • The URC is coming up that week! I leave May 28 to volunteer. We have a record number of teams and the new obstacle course! it should be the most exciting and best URC yet!
  • Mark hit 10,000 re-tweats for the Dallas chapter!
  • The Mars Society national convention, to be held in Boulder in August, is lining up an incredible array of speakers. Those who are planning to go, make your plans!
  • Moon day is coming upon us quickly, and Tom has a number of exciting ideas to make our presence even better than last year.
  • Speaking of conferences, it is coming time to talk about our T-shirt order. We decided at the last meeting to use the convention logo for our design. Now Mark needs to turn it into an actual T-shirt design, and we need to think about how many to order. April A said that she should be at the convention with some students, and they can help us man the T-shirt table in turn for help selling some MDRS cookbooks. Deal!

In national news, both Opportunity and Curiosity safely made it past conjunction and regained contact. Opportunity, deep into its 10th year on Mars, has logged over 22 miles, surpassing the 40 year old distance record of Apollo 17 (which they did it in three days, but…). (The lunakhod 2 lunar rover still holds the extra-terrestial record of 23 miles)

And, closer to home and nearer to Mars, the Explore Mars ‘Humans 2 Mars’ summit held May 6-8 had a variety of major space figures openly calling for NASA’s main manned space priority to be a manned mission to touch down on Mars within 20 years. This is the first time that a time-bound manned mission to Mars was discussed as NASA’s next main goal so openly by such senior government policymakers. We are getting closer all the time to national policy finally coming around to where it belongs: mankind’s next step is Mars!

See you Sunday!


Mars Society Announces Dates/City for 2012 International Convention

Mars Society Logo 200x188December 10, 2011 by The Mars Society

The Mars Society is pleased to announce that it will be convening its 15th Annual International Mars Society Convention on August 3 – 5, 2012 in Pasadena, California.

The dates were selected to coincide with the anticipated landing on the Red Planet of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, better known as Curiosity, sometime late in the night on August 5th.

More details about the next Mars Society convention, including the official itinerary, list of speakers and exact convention location will be made available in the near future.  Thank you, and we hope you’ll be able to join us this August!

On to Mars (with a stop-over in Pasadena)!