The Importance of Scientific Literacy to a Human Mission to Mars (Issue #31)

By: Nicole Willett

Mars Society Logo (High quality)I could start this article off with a plethora of statistics and facts about how poorly we are doing in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects in the US.  But we all know how poorly our performance has been for several decades.  The fault lies with everyone, not one group of people (ex: teachers or parents) or one political party. We must all bear the responsibility for the downfall of the scientific literacy in our country.  We have all been let down and we are letting our children down.  They have been promised a bright future full of endless possibilities, such as space exploration, humans to Mars, and to the stars.

Insp mars shipOur culture values possessions over knowledge.  Where has our passion for exploration gone?  When did we become satisfied with things instead of educating our children and ourselves to become a better civilization?  We are quickly becoming IDIOCRACY instead of INTERSTELLAR.  We have the tools for exceptional accomplishments.  The ability and the knowledge are available.  What is wrong with our culture?  We are eating ourselves from the inside out.  We are picking political sides as if they were our favorite NFL team.  We side with them for their jersey color, not what they really stand for or accomplish.  We must stop, think, and seriously ponder about what we are doing to our world.  We must disidentify with our “team” and decide what the best course for humanity is.   The course we are on has a dismal ending.

Money and possessions are a façade.  Civilization is a reality.  We are choosing the outcome of our reality by teaching our children to value materialism.  Few treasure truly tangible things such as education, inspiration, and exploration.  It is imperative that our culture shift gears.  We are destroying our planet, and with climate deniers at the helm of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which will put them in charge of climate policy, we are in a bleak state.  We may not be meant to stay on Earth, but we are meant to care for her.

blog 20 MWG and sun teachastronomy comI am grateful for those of us who have made it our life’s mission to educate and inspire others to explore.  Unfortunately we are too few.  When I read the National Geographic article in 1988 titled, Mission to Mars, it changed my life in an instant.  We were supposed to have humans on Mars by 1996.  It is now 18 years later and we have made little progress.  Thanks to incredibly imaginative and entrepreneurial people like Elon Musk, CEO-SpaceX, Dennis Tito, Founder-Inspiration Mars, and Bas Lansdorp, Co-founder-Mars One, we have a chance to send humans to Mars.  Please help inspire young people to get back to who we truly are as humans, explorers not consumers.

I long for my children, and yours, to live in a world where the possibilities are endless, where each child has a true chance to grow up and obtain a STEM degree and know that they will truly make a difference in the world and on other worlds in our solar system and others.  We must take humanity to Mars as a bridge to the stars.

 

[Images: The Mars Society, Inspiration Mars, NatGeo]

3-D Printing on Mars (Issue #30)

3-D Printing on Mars

blog 30 gizmodo com3-D Printing, what is it and what is all of the hubbub? A very simple analogy of 3-D printing would be if you imagine a regular printer, printing ink onto paper and going back and forth layering the ink on the paper thousands of times until you build up a three dimensional object. When a 3-D printer is in action, it may use a variety of different types of “ink”, including types of plastic, cement, and just about any material that has a liquid viscosity that later dries and hardens. This technology is widely considered to be a game changer for everything from daily life to manufacturing and construction. Almost anything can be printed with the correct type of printer and “ink”. For example, if you are missing a vital piece of plastic for your washing machine, as long as you can acquire a digital copy, by scanning the object or downloading it, you can send that information to the printer and voilà, your washer is now easy to fix. A variety of different types of three dimensional printing machines are now available. The prices vary dramatically. Some home use printers are as inexpensive as $300. Commercial printers can range from $10,000 to $20,000.

The public has been inundated with news regarding humans to Mars over the past couple of years. So many organizations are planning trips to Mars that it can be confusing.   See blog #25, The Many Plans for Mars. However, this can be good news for everyone. The more awareness that is being raised, the more education will be sought. This situation will lend itself to one or more of these organizations being successful. The implications for the human exploration and settlement of Mars are immense. Humanity will change in a way that cannot be undone. We will never be the same once we are an interplanetary species.

blog 30 3d-printed-mars-baseDr. Robert Zubrin, President of The Mars Society, has stated that we must use the resources that are available to us on the Red Planet in order to survive and thrive. This is extremely important since every pound of material we launch from Earth will be very expensive, approximately $50,000. So we must live off the land, as much as we possibly can in order to reduce the cost of the mission. 3-D printers can use the Martian soil to print homes, buildings for humans to live and work in, and other essential infrastructure for a society. With the correct additives to the soil and water, which is already present in the soil, 3-D printing should be a breeze on Mars.

A variety of sizes and types of 3-D printers can be used on Mars. Equipment, furniture, and other daily essentials can be printed from the resources already present on the Red Planet. If your 3-D printer needs a part, you can print it! This technology will help make human settlement on Mars much more doable. With so many organizations and companies have plans to send humans to Mars to live permanently, we must utilize all of the technology available to make the transition from Earthling to Martian as simple as possible.

Video link from The Science Channel about 3-D printing on Mars:

blog 30 sci

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4IbS42D8jk

[Images: gizmodo.com, space.com]

 

Life on Mars (Issue #29)

by: Nicole Willett

pia16453-43Throughout history, humans have looked at Mars in wonder and have made up myths, legends and science fiction stories about civilizations. When Mariner flew by Mars in 1965 hopes for finding a thriving civilization on the Red Planet were quickly dashed by the 22 postage stamp sized images that slowly trickled back to Earth. The images showed a barren, rocky terrain. For many though, their passion of finding out more details kept the interest in finding life on Mars alive. In 1976 a life detecting experiment invented by Dr. Gil Levin was sent on the Viking I and II Landers to investigate whether microbial life existed in the soil on Mars.

Viking LRLevin named his experiment Gulliver, but it was renamed by NASA to the Labeled Release (LR) experiment.  Viking I and Viking II, which were 4,000 miles away from each other, both carried the LR. A brief summary of the LR is as follows; first a sample of Martian soil is scooped up and sent into a thimble-sized chamber, then a tiny drop of nutrient containing radioactive 14C is squirted onto the soil sample, and, if microorganisms are present, they will consume the nutrient and then give off radioactive gas.  When the LR was performed on the surface of Mars, after the first squirt of nutrient was added onto the soil gas immediately began to come off.  A spike was seen on the graph tracing the gas, with a growing curve indicating a positive result for life. The gas that was released by this experiment kept slowly evolving for the entire seven days the LR was run. In order to verify the results a control experiment had been designed by NASA. The control was LR2 graphdesigned to determine whether the result was chemical or biological. The control had a negative result indicating thepositive response was from life. This is because chemistry could not “die” from the modest heat imposed by the control experiment, but a living organism could. Since the control came back negative and the LR was positive, it can be ascertained that there is life on Mars. Thus the LR detected life on Mars according to the criteria set by the Viking team and NASA. Viking I and II both had a positive result for life with the LR experiment. Several different life detecting or life-related experiments were in the payload of Viking. Each one had different degree of sensitivity. The LR was the only test that was positive for life, but it was much more sensitive than the others. The LR was able to detect as few as 20 bacterial cells in its development tests.  The other experiments were orders of magnitude less sensitive which easily explains why they were negative versus the positive results of the LR.

LR imageThe Gas Exchange (GEX) and the Pyrolytic Release Experiment (PR), the other life detections tests, failed to detect life in the soils of Mars.  When another experiment failed to find any organic matter in the Martian soil, NASA made a consensus that there was no life on the Red Planet. However, science does not work by consensus. Science is supposed to review any postitive or indicative results and retest them. That is the scientific method every third grader in America learns. Scientists must retest their experiment to get accurate results. If one out of three tests is positive, then you must rerun the positive experiment to get an accurate result. What scientists should not do is stop sending life detection experiments to Mars because their results are deemed ambiguous. NASA has refused to send any other life detection experiments to Mars since then. That is not science. Each time Levin has proposed a new life detection experiment to go to Mars, he has been denied. NASA keeps stating that they are looking for habitats that might have supported life long ago.  Nest they say they will look for “biosignatures” of long extinct life. If we had the technology to search for existing life on Mars in 1976, what is stopping us from looking for exixting life on Mars now? We have learned so much more about the Red Planet since then, it should be a slam dunk to send a convincing life detection device to Mars.

Each successive mission to Mars has discovered that Mars definitely has two things, rocks and water. The Viking missions (1976), the Pathfinder and Sojourner Rover (1997), Spirit (2004-2010) and Opportunity Rovers (2004-currently operational), Phoenix Lander (2008), and Curiosity (2012-currently operational) have all confirmed many times over that there are water and rocks on Mars. This has taken nearly 40 years to accomplish, even though we acquired that information with the Viking missions.  The next rover, with a working name of Mars 2020, is to be very similar to Curiosity with the addition of a cache to store rock samples in. This cache will be stored on Mars until a later date when another rover or humans (as a NASA scientists stated tongue and cheek) will launch it back to Earth, as a sample return, for further study. But how do they know any Martian life will survive the six to nine-month trip to Earth when we don’t know what they eat, breathe or what environment they need?  And, if they do survive, might they be harmful?  Bad idea!  According to MIT planetary scientist, Dr. Ben Weiss, about one ton per year of Martian meteorites fall to Earth, which over time equals billions of tons of rocks from Mars have arrived on Earth. He states, as do others, “It is possible we are Martians.” Since that is the case, what is the purpose of sending another rover very similar to Curiosity to blog 22 MarsAsteroidImpactMars to store a cache of rocks on the surface for an unknown amount of time?

This is a perplexing set of facts. So many issues arise with this plan. Such as, contamination upon reentry, time of the cache sitting on the surface of Mars, and lack of foresight and appropriate planning. According to Dr. Robert Zubrin, President of the Mars Society, we get samples of rocks from Mars all the time. We have many meteorites from Mars in labs being studied currently. The mission that should be funded is the Icebreaker Life mission. This mission will have a one meter long drill that will peer below the surface of Mars specifically searching for conclusive evidence of life. (see Issue # 21 for more details) In an email from Dr. Chris McKay he stated, “We are currently working on the Icebreaker mission and we will be proposing it to the current round of Discovery missions. We expect proposals due Dec 2014. We will aim for a 2018 launch.” This is a much more reasonable plan and should have been funded years ago.

Since the controversial Viking results, many scientific journal articles have been published supporting the results while others have attempted to discredit them. Many new experiments have been developed that have supported the LR positive results. At this point it may be a matter of what you choose to believe regarding the LR results. However, science is true whether or not you believe it. I believe there is life on Mars. All of the necessary ingredients are on Mars for life to exist. Mars has ample amounts of water, minerals, and other chemical nutrients in the soil. Habitability has been established and reestablished. The question is, “Do we want to find life on Mars?” It depends who you ask.

 

A special thank you to Dr. Gil Levin for his years of dedication and hard work on this subject and for his generous time and assistance with this blog.

[Images: NASA, Levin, Astrobio.net]

Eyes in the Martian Sky (Issue #28)

by:  Kathryn Sharp

aaWhile the rovers Opportunity and Curiosity cruise the surface of Mars, three operating satellites orbit above, keeping a keen eye on the planet. In addition to documenting the surface of Mars with an unprecedented level of detail, these satellites continue to provide critical support for ground missions. They relay vital communications between the rovers and Earth, monitor surface weather, look for safe driving paths around large boulders, and identify points of interest for further study. Although they often work in tandem to support the rovers, each orbiter has made its own fundamental contributions to our understanding of the red planet.

Mars Odyssey over Mars South PoleThe oldest of the three currently operational satellites orbiting Mars is the 2001 Mars Odyssey. Named as a tribute to science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s beloved work “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Mars Odyssey has been plugging away for well over a decade in low Mars orbit and has set the record as the longest serving spacecraft orbiting a planet other than Earth. Early in its mission, Mars Odyssey surprised scientists by detecting levels of water ice in the Martian soil that far exceeded expectations. This discovery intensified interest in the history of water on Mars and what that history could mean for the possibility of life there. Though perhaps its most important science work is done, Mars Odyssey has been granted numerous mission extensions, primarily to serve as a telecommunications relay between rovers Opportunity and Curiosity and Earth.

In 2003, the European Space Agency launched its Mars Express orbiter in with the goal of further investigating the presence of water and looking for chemical indicators of life. Mars Express is equipped with a host of instruments to accomplish these goals, including: two spectrometers, sub-surface radar intended to look for and map out frozen water beneath Mars’ soil, and among others, the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) which can take high-resolution photos of large regions on the surface.

040824_mars_express_02In the past decade, Mars Express has made remarkable discoveries. In January of 2004, ESA announced that water ice had been discovered in the Southern polar ice cap using its infrared spectrometer OMEGA. This discovery confirmed the 2002 findings of Mars Odyssey, which noted large quantities of water ice locked in the soil. Later that year, a large plume of methane was detected in the atmosphere. Since methane deteriorates in the Martian atmosphere in only 400 years or so, scientists postulated that the source of the gas must be ongoing: either organic life or volcanic activity. In either case, this exciting finding indicates Mars is, or was, more active than previously thought. However, recent measurements by Curiosity detect no significant quantities of methane in the atmosphere, calling into question earlier hypotheses. The topic presents a puzzle that will be the focus of several future missions, including the ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter, set for launch in 2016.

The newest satellite to reach Mars, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), carries a suite of state-of-the-art instruments intended to address many of the burning questions left unanswered from previous missions. The most compelling of these is whether or not water persisted on the surface of Mars long enough for organic life to arise. Answering this question continues to be one of the primary science goals of NASA’s entire Mars Exploration Program, and would likely be the focus of any manned mission in the future.

MRO_image-brThankfully, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been incredibly prolific, returning an unprecedented amount of data from Mars since its insertion into orbit in 2006. In 2013, NASA reported that the MRO has returned in total over 200 terabits of data: more than all other missions operating on the Deep Space Network and significantly more than all other previous Mars communications combined.

The majority of this data has come in the form of high-resolution images from the HiRISE camera, which works in conjunction with other instruments aboard the MRO to help scientists understand in detail the dynamics of Martian geology. To do so, the CTX (Context Camera) takes large regional surveys around features of interest, after which HiRISE narrows in to take a close-up photo of that feature. Simultaneously, the onboard spectrometer CRISM analyzes the mineral composition of that same region. By compiling data from these three instruments, scientists can distinguish between sediment deposited by moving water, wind, or other geologic processes and begin to piece together a picture of Mars’ fascinating history.

Warm-season Flows HiRISENot only are these images important for their scientific relevance, but they have also played a powerful role in engaging the public interest in Mars. Never before have we been able to see the surface of another planet in such striking detail. In these images, we are afforded more than a glimpse at a planet that is alive in many ways. Changing seasons, fresh impact craters, landslides, recurring flow-like features, and dunes shifting in the Martian winds, all witnessed from here on Earth. The HiRISE team has reached out to professionals, amateurs, and students with its HiWish Public Suggestion Page. HiWish is a tool that allows any interested citizen to log in and select a target where they think HiRISE should take an image. This is a fantastic opportunity for young scientists to engage with Mars and play a part in exploring its rich topography.

Each day, NASA and the ESA receive an enormous amount of data from the instruments aboard these three spacecraft, providing an invaluable link between the Earth and Mars. When humans finally arrive on the surface of Mars, it will be due in large part to the continued success of these three missions. We have sent them ahead of us to be our mapmakers: to chart safe passage, to help us find resources vital for our survival, and to unlock the secrets of a planet that does not readily tip its hand.

[Images: NASA, JPL, ESA, JPL, JPL]

The Mars Society Latest Events and Programs-Get Involved!!! (Issue #27)

By: Nicole Willett and The Mars Society

Mars Society Logo (High quality)Annual conventions have become a staple of The Mars Society.  Many leading scientists, researchers, and entrepreneurs hold plenary talks and participate in panel discussions regarding many aspects of the human exploration and settlement of the Red Planet.  The 17th Annual Mars Society Convention will be held from August 7-10, 2014 in the Houston area in League City, Texas (near NASA’s Johnson Space Center).  The convention will be at the South Shore Harbour Resort.

The Mars Society invites presentations for the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention. Subjects for discussion can involve all matters associated with the exploration and settlement of the planet Mars, including science, technology, engineering, politics, economics, public policy, etc.

If you would like to submit an abstract to be considered for a presentation at the convention you may email your submission here.  Email is preferred, however you may mail your submission to The Mars Society, 11111 West 8th Avenue, Unit A, Lakewood, CO 80215 .  The submissions are to be no more than 300 words and must be submitted by June 30th. A few of the proposed conference sessions are:

  • The search for life on Mars
  • Latest findings from Mars spacecraft
  • Why Mars?
  • Plans for 2014 Mars missions and beyond
  • Curiosity rover – research & accomplishments
  • Concepts for future robotic Mars missions
  • For further details and a full list of conference sessions, click here.

The convention is open to the general public and everyone is encouraged to attend.  The four-day event will bring together key experts, scientists, policymakers and journalists to discuss the latest news on Mars exploration and efforts to promote a human mission to the Red Planet in the coming years.   To register for the event click here.

YoutubeIf you would like to view some of the presentations from previous years, please visit the Mars Society Channel on Youtube.   You will see previous Mars Pioneer Award winners and their keynote address.  The recipient for the 2012 award was Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla motors.   Musk passionately discussed the importance of a humans to Mars mission and how and why it should be done.  The 2013 recipient was Dr. Steve Squyres, the Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit and Opportunity.  Dr. Squyres gave a wonderful update on the Opportunity Rover and an entertaining history of the MER program.

Insp mars shipAt the 16th Annual Mars Society Convention, Dennis Tito, founder of Inspiration Mars, announced an international engineering competition for student teams to propose design concepts for the architecture of the Inspiration Mars mission. The contest is open to university engineering student teams from anywhere in the world. Inspiration Mars Executive Director Dennis Tito and Program Manager Taber MacCallum were present for the announcement. “Inspiration Mars is looking for the most creative ideas from engineers all over the world,” said Tito. “Furthermore, we want to engage the explorers of tomorrow with a real and exciting mission, and demonstrate what a powerful force space exploration can be in inspiring young people to develop their talent. This contest will accomplish both of those objectives.”  The requirement is to design a two-person Mars flyby mission for 2018 as cheaply, safely and simply as possible. All other design variables are open. The Mars Society’s Inspiration Mars International Student Design Competition has drawn a massive worldwide response. As of the January 31, 2014 deadline, letters of intent to compete have been received from 38 teams representing 56 universities in 15 countries. Nations represented include the United States, Canada, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Poland, Mauritius, India, Bangladesh, Japan and Colombia. A sampling of some of the institutions signed up to participate include: John Hopkins University, St. Petersburg State Polytechnical University, Ohio State University, Warsaw University of Technology, University of Notre Dame, Indira Gandhi National Open University, York University, International Space University, Purdue University, Islamic University of Technology, University of Stuttgart, Keio University, and University of Glasgow.

 

URC2The University Rover Challenge (URC) is a robotic rover design competition that encourages college students to create rovers using guidelines set by The Mars Society.  URC teams are currently working on their rovers.  The seventh annual rendition of the international competition for college students is organized by The Mars Society and will be held May 30 – June 1, 2013 at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) near Hanksville, Utah.  This unique and renowned competition has hosted dozens of college teams since 2007 in a barren landscape that is an ideal analog of the planet Mars. The MDRS site is also home to human crews conducting mission simulations that test a broad range of Mars exploration topics. URC rovers are designed and built to one day assist astronauts on the Red Planet. The URC has a record 31 teams this year!  Click here for more information on how you can join the URC.

YRC2The Youth Rover Challenge (YRC) is a multi-tier robotics education development program that is hosted, sponsored and operated by The Mars Society. The program commenced on August 6th, 2013 to commemorate the one year anniversary of the landing of NASA’s Curiosity Rover. YRC is a STEM related educational effort that is designed for schools and organizations with students or members in grades 5-12 to have the chance to build and compete at a global level with a LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 based robotic rover and competition arena intended to simulate the surface of Mars. The YRC has 26 teams registered for this year’s competition. For more information visit the Youth Rover site or email Deputy Director Chuck McMurray.

 

The Education Forum continues its outreach efforts by hosting speaking engagements in person or via the web.  If you would like to schedule an event for your class, troop, astronomy club, or other organization, please contact Education Director Nicole Willett.  The talks range from 30 minutes to an hour.  The purpose is to educate the public to our place in the universe and the importance of the human exploration and settlement of the planet Mars.  To see a list of previous events and accompanying images please click here.

Join The Mars Society Today and Help Play a Role in

Humanity’s Next Step into the Solar System!

All Mars Society members receive:

+ An official membership card

+ Regular Mars Society email updates & announcements

+ The Mars Quarterly online magazine

+ An opportunity to participate in local Mars Society chapter events & activities

+ A special invitation & discount to the International Mars Society Convention

+ Special access to exclusive online chats, webinars & discussions with leading Mars experts

Join The Mars Society NOW!

[Images: The Mars Society, Youtube, Inspiration Mars]