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

Final Meeting for 2015


I know many will be traveling and more will be comatose from over eating, but save some time and energy for our last meeting of the year!

We are meeting this Sunday, November 29, 2015 at 6:30pm. Location is Spaghetti Warehouse off of 15th St and Rt75 in Plano!

This is our last meeting of the year,so we can go over all our accomplishments as well as plans for next year. From successful activities ranging from the Dallas County Science Fair to a record breaking URC, to a great national convention and a record setting Moon Day show, we had a great year, and we plan to make it even better next year!

Nationally, we saw the SLS pass critical design review, the confirmation of liquid water just below the surface on Mars, the huge hit movie ‘The Martian’ popularize near term Mars Exploration, an incredible flyby of Pluto, and NASA announced that in December they will be seeking astronaut candidates for potential deep space missions (no, I’m not kidding, so get your resumes ready!). Space has not had this much excitement since the 60’s!

BUT! There’s more! We have a special guest this Sunday. Aylyffe Martin, who works for Hilton Worldwide, will be presenting her ideas on building a Hotel in Space. This has gotten some interest at Hilton Hotels, and was presented to our local friends at NSST. Please come out and hear what Alyssa has to say! (Thank you, Don, for helping to set this up!)

See you Sunday!


Note from the Editor: I offer my apologies for taking so long to update the web site. Life intervenes from time to time, but please don’t worry for the future of DallasMars.org. We do plan to keep it going.
– Greg

Microgravity, Artificial Gravity and Blue Dragon

One of the most hotly debated topics related to sending humans to Mars is the health effects of prolonged exposure to microgravity and how these might be mitigated.

Prolonged exposure to microgravity (a.k.a. “zero gravity”) has several serious effects on the human body:

  1. Without the need to support the weight of the body, the musculoskeletal system atrophies and weakens. Bone and muscle mass tend to decrease at a significant rate. Bone mass can decrease at 1-1.5% per month.
  2. Under normal gravitational forces…

More (Mars Settlement)…

Why we shouldn’t wait to go to Mars

Editor’s note: Robert Zubrin, an astronautical engineer, is president of The Mars Society and author of “The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must,” recently updated and republished by Simon & Schuster.

In the opinion piece “Mars can wait. Oceans can’t,” published recently on CNN.com, Amitai Etzioni says that we should defer Mars exploration because the seas have a higher priority. While I have the highest regard for ocean exploration, the fact of the matter is that there are numerous agencies – including the U.S. Navy, the navies of other countries, academic institutions, research organizations, corporations and James Cameron personally – that are more than adequately financed and equipped to carry it out.

The idea that we need to suspend space exploration in order to provide the necessary resources to probe the oceans is categorically absurd. So let’s call it like it is: The argument that we should explore the oceans instead of space is not a call to search the seas, but simply a disingenuous way to give up our effort to reach the Red Planet.

But why should we try? There are three reasons.

Full Story

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

January 2012 Minutes

Our January meeting was a great start to the New Year. There were nine persons in attendance. The conversation was lively and fun. Discussion topics included exciting plans for the upcoming year.

Mark was back from Florida after being one of the Tweetup VIP’s for the MSL launch. We were excited to hear Mark’s first-hand accounting of the MSL launch.

We were also excited to discuss April’s tour at MDRS. The crew’s agenda was to plan for a pilot Mars 101 course enabling first and second year college students to participate in planetary analog research (http://www.marssociety.org/home/press/announcements/teamtexasarriveatmdrs)

We discussed the Orion spacecraft exhibit which was at the American Airlines center in Dallas in January. Several members from the Dallas Mars Society and National Space Society attended the event.

We shared good memories from the National Space Society Christmas party which was held at Carol’s house in December. Members had a great time at the party.

We discussed upcoming events which include below:

The National Space Society poetry contest on subject – Mars the Next Frontier:  Exploration and Settlement of Space.  Deadline for submission for the contest is July 31st 2012.  http://www.nssofnt.org/activities/poetry-contest-2/poetry-contest-2012/

ConDFW Convention (http://www.condfw.org/) – February 17th – 19th 2012

ISDC 2012 (http://isdc.nss.org/2012/) – May 24th – 28th 2012

University Rover Challenge (http://urc.marssociety.org/home): May 31st – June 2nd 2012

Frontiers of Flight Museum (http://www.flightmuseum.com) Moon Day – July 2012

15th Annual Mars Society Convention (http://www.marssociety.org) – August 3rd -5th 2012

We look forward to our guest speaker at our February meeting.  Ken Ruffin, president of the local NSS chapter, will give a talk on the future of space exploration.

Yes, another month has gone by…


Yes, another month has gone by.  Thanksgiving is upon us, Christmas and New Year’s is around the corner, and MSL is about to launch!

We will be having our regular monthly meeting this Sunday at 6:30 pm at the Spaghetti Warehouse in Plano, same as always, near rt 75 and 15th street.

Our meeting comes right after the scheduled liftoff of the MSL, scheduled for 9:02 AM central on Saturday, November 26.  After the delay from Friday I doubt we’ll be able to get any video of it, but we will have a member there as an eyewitness!  As you probably know, Mark S has been invited as part of the NASA tweetup to attend and witness the launch!!  Mark will not be back in time for a first hand accounting, but we’ll catch up with him and hear about it from him in time.  One of our own will be personally in attendance to see the most important launch regarding Mars since Viking!!  I’m sure it will be an awesome sight and we’ll get word back from Mark.

We can also discuss the progress regarding our editing and publishing the proceedings and papers from the last series of Mars Society conferences.  Progress has been slow of late as we head into the always busy holiday season, but stay tuned.  As we move into the new year we also need to start thinking about the initiatives we discussed regarding the University Rover Competition and the Moon Day for 2012.

I do need to apologize that I have not kept things moving as much as I had hoped and wanted. Looking back 2011 has been a great year for our group, highlighted by our hosting the 2011 convention, and 2012 looks to be an exciting year.

See you all Sunday!