I hope we all had a great Christmas break, and now it is a New Year!
And that means it is time to get back in the cycle of our monthly Mars Society meetings. We have a meeting this Sunday, Jan 31st, at the Spaghetti Warehouse, Rt 75 and 15th street, in Plano, at 6:30 pm.
Please note that this Sunday we have a guest speaker, Aylyffe Martin of Hilton Hotels, will be speaking about hotels in space! Aylyffe was going to talk to us at our last meeting in November, but unfortunately could not
attend due to a sickness in the family. So we have rescheduled, and Aylyffe has graciously agreed to to come to our January meeting. I hope as many as can will be able to come out and hear our guest Aylyffe.
Also, as we move forward this year, I want to talk about some changes. We’ve already discussed having more outings as a group, and we had our first last year, going to see the movie ‘The Martian’. I also have some info on star gazing with the Texas Astronomical Society of Dallas, and
Derek has graciously agreed to host us on a tour at SpaceX’s McGregor facilities at a time of mutual convenience.
In addition, i want to explore the possibility of bringing in some other guest speakers on different subjects to try and ‘spice things up’. We also have planning for the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair, and, further on, our Mars exhibit for Moon Day.
In national news, SpaceX has stuck and almost stuck a first stage landing. Three commercial contenders were chosen for cargo delivery to the Space Station. More space hardware then even the height of the Space Race is taking shape across the country. These are exciting times!
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.
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 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.
And then in an unexpected turn, Congress even gave NASA $1.3 billion more than requested, to a total of $19.3 billion.
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.
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
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!!!”
Seven members attended this May. We had a great meeting which opened with excited and lively discussions of SpaceX successful mission to the International Space Station. Congratulations SpaceX!
Thanks to Tom and Mark for bringing in a new remote control rover and camera. We had a great time experimenting with the rover and planning exhibits with the rover for Moon day and other chapter events.
We also discussed t-shirts for the upcoming Mars Society Convention. Thanks Mark for your creative work on the t-shirt design, it looked great!
We also talked about the university rover competition at MDRS. Kurt and Kris are planning to help out with the competition at MDRS this year.
We also discussed the upcoming Dallas Museum of Nature and Science Discovery days. Curtis mentioned NSS is planning a table at this event.
Last we discussed the AIAA awards banquet on June 7th at the Crowne Plaza. Mr. Ralph Heath is the distinguished speaker for the event. Mr. Heath recently retired from Lockheed as the executive vice president of the Aeronautics Business area.
Yes, time for another meeting, this Sunday, 6:30 PM, Spaghetti Warehouse, Plano, TX off of Rt 75 at the 15th street exit.
Mark and Tom have been working on getting a rover and camera for moon day, and we will have a demo this Sunday. (Dan: please if you don’t mind to bring your monitor to see if it will work with the camera). Plans are coming together for a great presence at this year’s Moon Day! And I hope to hear the latest regarding T-shirt designs, and any progress on our e-publishing efforts.
Kris and I are counting down to going to MDRS to help with the URC, and expect to have much to talk about when we return for our June meeting. Note that our June meeting will be the LAST meeting before Moon day!! Time flies!
Registration for the conventing is open, and we should have a great line up of speakers in JPL’s backyard. MSL continues its flawless journey to the Red planet, so let’s hope it keeps up for the nail biting entry descent and landing this August!
And, of course, SpaceX did it!!! They launched Tuesday morning and are on their way to a hoped for (and i expect they will do it) docking with the Space Station Friday. This is a very big moment for commercial space, space exploration, and our hopes for moving forward in space exploration.
If you’ve been paying any attention, you probably already know
that SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9/Dragon to the
space station this morning. If all continues to goes according to
plan, the Dragon will rendezvous and dock with the station on
For what it’s worth I did stay up late and live tweet the Falcon
launch for DMS on our twitter page (was glad to do it:)