What Does The Mars Society Do? (Issue #33)

By: Nicole Willett

blog 33 aThe latest episode of Neil DeGrasse-Tyson’s Star Talk, featuring, Bill Nye, President of The Planetary Society, Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, and Astrophysicist, Dr. Michael Shara, was chock full of great information and insight.  While watching, my heart ached for our civilization to understand the importance of a manned mission to Mars.  Charles Bolden stated NASA’s plan is to be on Mars around 2030 with the current budget of half of one percent of the US budget, we believe with more resources and cooperation from various countries and private organizations we could be on Mars sooner and possibly cheaper.  A major reason for needing a human touch on Mars is for exactly what Bill Nye stated which is that a human scientist could do in one minute the job that a robot does in a week, it’s about a ratio of 1:10,000.  The problem was stated clearly by Dr. Michael Shara, “Frankly, we are not as brave as we should be.” These statements are extraordinarily important to be shared with the public.  We are not as brave or as curious as we should be. Dr. Robert Zubrin, President of The Mars Society and one of the bravest men I have ever known, says we could be on Mars in ten years with the proper funding.

Shopping bags, MonbiotAren’t you curious? Is curiosity lost to our civilization for the most part?  Some days I think it is.  I often get asked this question, “What does The Mars Society do?”  This question sometimes frustratingly comes from a place of condescension and rarely a place of curiosity.  I have to remind myself that the work we are doing here is to take humans to another planet, an event that would change human history and that most people unfortunately have no concept of why it is so important. The short answer is:  We are an advocacy group to promote the human exploration and settlement of Mars.  Our goal is to educate the public through our Education Department, bring like-minded people together at chapter meetings and our annual conventions, and promote a human mission to Mars via projects and competitions.  Sounds simple right?  Well, not really. You see, people really like the societal pleasures of who is who, who is wearing who, what team are you for, what kind of car do you drive, what do you do for a living???? On and on this goes.  Meanwhile, billions of people are left uninformed of what is really important: Curiosity, knowledge, and exploration.  Instilling curiosity, providing access to true knowledge of scientific facts, and the goal of Mars exploration by humans, is an important part of what we are trying to accomplish.

blog 33 koolfmIt is frustrating for sure, as a teacher of young people, to see that most are much more interested in the latest phone app than the intellectual curiosity for really learning anything.  The way the educational system is set up is flawed and is partially responsible for the noninterest to learn.  People do not enjoy memorizing things in order to take a test.  People want to LEARN.  Only learning can create critical thinking and curiosity, maybe this is the source of the apathy in America.  I encounter some very curious minds, but sadly too few.  Learning takes place with hands on experience and discussions, not workbooks and vocabulary lessons.  We need to have a strong work force of critical thinkers, not robotic followers.   The Apollo 13 Mission was not saved by people that had been able to get the highest SAT score blog 33 nasabecause they memorized a bunch of facts, those brave scientists were able to quickly and critically think and creatively solve a problem and save the lives of three brave men.  The Mars Society is an organization that is involved in many projects that make an environment conducive to learning by hands-on experience and discussions, which lends itself to creativity and critical thinking.  Going to the Moon took about 400,000 people, going to Mars will take many more.  We need strong minded, willful, brave problem solvers to get to Mars.

So, what does The Mars Society do to move this endeavor forward?  Well, with a lot of patience and a group of very dedicated and passionate volunteers.  The Mars Society was founded by Dr. Robert Zubrin in 1998, stemming from the Mars Underground which was started by Dr. Carol Stoker, NASA, Dr. Chris McKay, NASA, and Dr. Penelope Boston.  The Mars Society is involved in many projects, including but not limited to:  holding annual conventions, an Education Department for public outreach, STEM Education Events, Red Planet Pen (an educational blog), Red Planet Radio (podcast), a Speakers Bureau, having two analogue stations named Mars Desert Research Station and Mars Arctic Research Station, the University Rover Challenge and the Youth Rover Challenge.

blog 33 cuaThe Mars Society will convene the 18th Annual International Mars Society Convention on the campus of the Catholic University of America from August 13-16, 2015.  The annual four-day event brings together key experts, scientists, journalists and policymakers to discuss the latest news on Mars exploration and efforts to promote a humans-to-Mars mission in the coming years. We have many notable speakers, including Dr. Robert Zubrin, President and Founder of the Mars Society, Apollo astronaut Dr. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt will give a plenary address, Dr. Deborah Bass, Deputy Project Scientist for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, will discuss the planned exploration mission, Dr. Vint Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, will give a plenary talk about his long-term vision for solar system exploration and the role communications will play in this endeavor, Sam Scimemi, Director for International Space Station (ISS) at NASA Headquarters within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Dr. Pamela G. Conrad, an astrobiologist and mineralogist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Deputy Principal Investigator for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, will talk about the potential habitability of the planet Mars, and many, many more!
blog 33 mdrsThe Mars Society has two analog research stations.  One is the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) and the other is the Mars Arctic Research Station.  Analog Research Stations are laboratories for learning how to live and work on another planet. Each is a prototype of a habitat that will land humans on Mars and serve as their main base for months of exploration in the harsh Martian environment. Such a habitat represents a key element in current human Mars mission planning. Each Station’s centerpiece is a cylindrical habitat, “The Hab,” an 8-meter diameter, two-deck structure mounted on landing struts. Peripheral external structures, some inflatable, may be appended to the hab as well.  College students gain credit by living and working at the MDRS hab for two weeks at a time.

The Mars Society Education Department maintains an educational forum website with resources free to all students, teachers and Mars enthusiasts.  Opportunities for speakers, online or in person, are available to enhance students’ educational experience around the world.  The Speakers Bureau of experienced Mars advocates can be contacted to speak and do a presentation and will either come to you or organize an online event for your group or class.  The website also has an archive of blogs with a vast amount of information about Mars and the spacecraft that have visited the Red Planet.  To enhance all educational materials, The Mars Society has a YouTube Channel that has hundreds of videos of talks from previous conventions.  All of these resources are meant to stimulate minds and allow anyone to learn as much as they can about Mars and what a human mission to Mars entails.

blog 33 urcChuck McMurray, the Mars Society’s Deputy Education Director, launched the Youth Rover Challenge in 2013 which is geared toward middle and high school students.  The rover program consists of two levels of competition to get kids started earlier and also prepare them for participation in the University Rover Challenge held annually at MDRS in Utah.  Grade levels 5 through 12 will be invited to compete in the Youth Rover Challenge.  The University Rover Challenge (URC) was started in 2007 and run by URC director, Kevin Sloan.  It is the world’s premier robotics competition for college students.  Held annually in the desert of southern Utah in the United States, URC challenges student teams to design and build the next generation of Mars rovers that will one day work alongside astronauts exploring the Red Planet.

So, what does The Mars Society do?  All of these things and so much more.  We want the world to know the importance of a human mission to Mars.  The reasons are many, but here are a few that can be found in our Founding Declaration:

We must go for the knowledge of Mars.

We must go for the knowledge of Earth. 

We must go for the challenge. 

We must go for the youth. 

We must go for the opportunity. 

We must go for our humanity. 

We must go for the future.

 

Humans to Mars as a bridge to the stars…………..

[Image credits: NASA, Guardian, koolfm, NASA, CUA, TMS, TMS]

Understanding the Risks: Radiation Exposure During Interplanetary Travel (Issue #26)

Guest blog by Kathryn Sharp

RadiationRecent years have seen an exciting uptick in the number of humans-to-Mars mission plans, from manned fly-bys to permanent settlements. Each lays out its own priorities and objectives, suggesting creative solutions to challenges common to all of them. One important challenge each mission will face is the danger of space radiation exposure over the course of lengthy interplanetary travel.

There are two major types of radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing. Many forms of nonionizing radiation will sound familiar: your car radio, cell phone, microwave, all of which operate at frequencies low enough that their energy isn’t sufficient to damage human DNA. These are therefore not considered to be carcinogenic, or cancer-causing. On the other hand, ionizing radiation carries energy high enough to break chemical bonds and damage DNA, which in turn increases the risk of developing cancer. Some examples include medical X-rays and CT scans, which, when used infrequently, do not significantly increase cancer risk, and radioactivity remaining from the era of atmospheric nuclear testing.

Insp mars shipOf course, these are only man-made sources of radiation. The sun showers the Earth every moment with both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Thankfully, our protective atmosphere and magnetosphere shield us from a majority of the harmful radiation, with only some UV rays reaching the surface. Beyond our atmosphere however, solar energetic particles (SEPs), ejected from the sun by solar flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) from interstellar space blast through our solar system unmitigated.

In space, astronauts face much higher radiation exposure from these sources than we do down here on the surface. On average, an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS) will receive as much radiation in one six-month stay as they would in twenty years back home on Earth. As humans venture beyond low-Earth orbit and the sheltering bands of Earth’s magnetic field, their lives will depend on proper shielding in their spacecraft.

ss-121109-mars-curiosity-tease.photoblog900In 2011, when the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity Rover launched from Cape Canaveral it carried with it a small instrument for measuring space radiation in a shielded environment similar to that of a manned mission. Based on the measurements of the unit called the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), Marsonauts would receive a dose equivalent of roughly 0.6 Sieverts (Sv) in 360 days of travel to-and-from Mars, not counting any radiation received while operating on the surface of Mars itself. This dose is akin to receiving 1 to 2 abdominal CT scans each week over the course of a year.

Currently, NASA limits the cumulative lifetime dose for its astronauts at 1 Sievert. This dose is associated with a roughly 5% increase in lifetime cancer risk. For reference, the current lifetime risk of dying of cancer for someone in the US is around 20%, so a dose of 1 Sv would raise this risk from 20 to 25%. While 0.6 Sieverts is a large dose of radiation in a relatively short period, clearly it is within established limits and should not halt further development of manned missions to Mars.

Although this dose falls within NASA’s established limit, developers of any future crewed Mars mission shoulder the responsibility of sheltering its astronauts and reducing their exposure to the lowest levels possible. How can we limit the radiation dose to Marsonauts in an efficient and cost-effective way?

victoria2_opportunityThree major factors limit a person’s exposure to radiation: time, distance, and shielding. Limiting the time astronauts are exposed to space radiation is a surefire way to reduce their dose. However, the only way to reduce the time of exposure is to speed up the spacecraft: no easy feat. Existing spacecraft rely on heavy fuels, which in turn lead to heavier payloads, resulting in slower speeds and higher costs. Conceptual space vehicles that rely on other sources of energy, such as nuclear power, are on the drawing board, but waiting through the long development period for such technologies will only further delay a crewed mission.

Because the source of solar energetic particles, the sun, is a fixed source, and because galactic cosmic rays are pervasive throughout the solar system, we cannot significantly increase the distance between the astronauts and the source of the radiation. At this time, the most convincing method of reducing exposure is effective shielding. Unfortunately, different materials are necessary to shield against different types of radiation. For example, high-energy gamma rays require very dense, thick materials, such as lead, to shield, whereas neutrons are best-shielded by hydrogen-rich materials such as concrete. These are both heavy materials that will add significant mass to the payload, requiring more fuel and incidentally, more money.

Current radiation shielding plans minimize the amount of these materials by allowing for a narrow shelter in the center of the spacecraft to be used during large SEP-producing events such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections. The measurements taken by the RAD aboard Curiosity confirmed that this type of arrangement would be sufficient to shield the majority of SEPs, but astronauts would still be vulnerable to, and receive the majority of their dose from, galactic cosmic rays. This constant stream of heavy, high energy particles presents the biggest shielding challenge.

Several mitigation strategies are being considered to reduce the dose from GCRs. We could utilize existing resources aboard the ship, such as the crew’s water or fuel supply, as shielding agents. Water is an excellent shield for GCRs, but it is heavy. A water shield around the crew’s living quarters would need to be several meters thick, and could add hundreds of tons to the payload. This is an insurmountable weight for current mission designs, and would send launch costs skyrocketing.

Alternatively, we could construct the spacecraft from light, hydrogen-rich plastics such as polyethylene rather than the aluminum shell that the ISS employs. This could reduce both the payload weight and cost, but further research is necessary in order to improve the strength and heat tolerance of these materials.  Another theoretical strategy would be to generate a small magnetic field to deflect incoming radiation much the same way Earth’s magnetic field functions. Generating a magnetic field requires energy however, and generating one large enough to shield an entire spacecraft would require considerable energy: a precious commodity when you are 35 million miles from home.

a Mission to Mars Pic 06While all possible ways of limiting radiation exposure ought to be explored, it is important to keep these risks in context. In his book, The Case for Mars, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin puts these concerns in perspective: “While such doses are not to be recommended to the general public, they represent a small fraction of the total risk of not only space travel, but such common recreations such as mountain climbing or sailboarding. Radiation hazards are not a showstopper for a piloted Mars mission.”

As Zubrin’s statement suggests, we must bear in mind that a manned Mars mission is not a routine endeavor, it is an extraordinary one. Every extraordinary mission in the history of mankind has involved significant risk, and with it, the potential for remarkable reward. We can and should do our best to limit these risks, but must understand that we cannot eliminate them.

 

[Images: publicdomainpictures.net, Inspiration Mars, NASA]

The Many Plans for Mars (Issue #25)

By:  Nicole Willett

Mars in space (NASA-Christine Daniloff-MIT News)A lot of media coverage has occurred over the past several months regarding sending humans to Mars.  Many people get the proposed missions mixed up and sometimes facts are falsely reported.  This blog is an attempt to focus on a few of the organizations/companies that have serious Mars proposals underway.  The Mars Society feels strongly that sending humans to Mars is a top priority for our civilization and we wish good luck to all missions that are being proposed.

The Case for Mars 2In 1990 Dr. Robert Zubrin, President and founder of The Mars Society, and David Baker proposed a mission called Mars Direct to NASA.  Zubrin later published his book titled The Case for Mars, where he expanded on the details of the mission.  The mission involves a series of launches.  First, a spacecraft lands on Mars first without human occupants.  This craft is the Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) and it will act a fuel manufacturing station in order to provide fuel for the future human explorers to return to Earth.  The Habitat Unit (HU) will arrive with a crew of 4 humans approximately 26 Top_Bannermonths later.   There will be many ERV’s and HU’s sent to the Red Planet in succession.  An ERV will be fueled and ready at all times and the HU’s will be interconnected in order for a larger and larger living space to be available for the increasing number of human occupants.  Human exploration and settlement of Mars is the mission of The Mars Society.  Zubrin states, “The time has come for humanity to journey to the planet Mars.  We’re ready.  Though Mars is distant, we are far better prepared today to send humans to the Red Planet than we were to travel to the Moon at the commencement of the space age. Given the will, we could have our first crews on Mars within a decade.”

 

SpaceXSpaceX is a company founded by Elon Musk.  He was the recipient of the 2012 Mars Pioneer Award at the 15th Annual Mars Society Convention.  SpaceX is the first privately owned company to launch cargo to the International Space Station using the Falcon 9 rocket.  They have also had a successful test flight of the Grasshopper rocket which launched vertically approximately 800 feet, moved horizontally about 300 feet and then landed safely by descending vertically.  Musk has a goal of enabling thousands of humans to go to Mars for permanent settlement.   His vision is to first send a small crew of about ten humans to Mars, utilizing reusable Falcon Heavy rockets.  He plans on continuing to send more and more humans to settle on Mars with the hope that his first Martian colony has a population of about 80,000 people.

Insp marsInspiration Mars was founded by Dennis Tito.  He is the first private citizen to pay to be taken to the International Space Station.  His company recently released their design report which outlines their plans and their timeline for the mission.  The highlights of the mission are as follows:  a two person, 501 day unprecedented human flyby mission to the Red Planet to launch during the launch window in January 2018.  The justification for a flyby versus landing on the surface is that it is much less technologically daunting and the risk is much lower for the human explorers.  Inspiration Mars believes that this historic event will pave the way for future Marsonauts to land on the surface at a later date.

mars-oneMars One is headed by Bas Lansdorp.  This is a non-profit organization that plans on launching a four person capsule to land on Mars in 2022.  There will be several steps in this process.  In 2016 a supply mission will be sent ahead, in 2018 a rover will explore the terrain, and in 2021 rovers will assemble habitats and life support systems.  By 2022 the four person crew will land on the surface of the planet, followed every two years by four person crews.  Mars One hopes that this will be the beginning of the first permanent human settlement on Mars.

Mars Society Logo (High quality)No matter which mission succeeds, keep the following in mind:

[From The Mars Society’s Founding Declaration]

The reasons for going to Mars are powerful.

We must go for the knowledge of Mars. Our robotic probes have revealed that Mars was once a warm and wet planet, suitable for hosting life’s origin. But did it? A search for fossils on the Martian surface or microbes in groundwater below could provide the answer. If found, they would show that the origin of life is not unique to the Earth, and, by implication, reveal a universe that is filled with life and probably intelligence as well. From the point of view learning our true place in the universe, this would be the most important scientific enlightenment since Copernicus.

We must go for the knowledge of Earth. As we begin the twenty-first century, we have evidence that we are changing the Earth’s atmosphere and environment in significant ways. It has become a critical matter for us better to understand all aspects of our environment. In this project, comparative planetology is a very powerful tool, a fact already shown by the role Venusian atmospheric studies played in our discovery of the potential threat of global warming by greenhouse gases. Mars, the planet most like Earth, will have even more to teach us about our home world. The knowledge we gain could be key to our survival.

We must go for the challenge. Civilizations, like people, thrive on challenge and decay without it. The time is past for human societies to use war as a driving stress for technological progress. As the world moves towards unity, we must join together, not in mutual passivity, but in common enterprise, facing outward to embrace a greater and nobler challenge than that which we previously posed to each other. Pioneering Mars will provide such a challenge. Furthermore, a cooperative international exploration of Mars would serve as an example of how the same joint-action could work on Earth in other ventures.

We must go for the youth. The spirit of youth demands adventure. A humans-to-Mars program would challenge young people everywhere to develop their minds to participate in the pioneering of a new world. If a Mars program were to inspire just a single extra percent of today’s youth to scientific educations, the net result would be tens of millions more scientists, engineers, inventors, medical researchers and doctors. These people will make innovations that create new industries, find new medical cures, increase income, and benefit the world in innumerable ways to provide a return that will utterly dwarf the expenditures of the Mars program.

We must go for the opportunity. The settling of the Martian New World is an opportunity for a noble experiment in which humanity has another chance to shed old baggage and begin the world anew; carrying forward as much of the best of our heritage as possible and leaving the worst behind. Such chances do not come often, and are not to be disdained lightly.

We must go for our humanity. Human beings are more than merely another kind of animal, -we are life’s messenger. Alone of the creatures of the Earth, we have the ability to continue the work of creation by bringing life to Mars, and Mars to life. In doing so, we shall make a profound statement as to the precious worth of the human race and every member of it.

We must go for the future. Mars is not just a scientific curiosity; it is a world with a surface area equal to all the continents of Earth combined, possessing all the elements that are needed to support not only life, but technological society. It is a New World, filled with history waiting to be made by a new and youthful branch of human civilization that is waiting to be born. We must go to Mars to make that potential a reality. We must go, not for us, but for a people who are yet to be. We must do it for the Martians.

At The Mars Society we believe that the exploration and settlement of Mars is one of the greatest human endeavors possible in our time, with the understanding that even the best ideas for human action are never inevitable, but must be planned, advocated, and achieved by hard work. We call upon all other individuals and organizations of like-minded people to join with us in furthering this great enterprise. No nobler cause has ever been. We shall not rest until it succeeds.

[Image Credit: The Mars Society, SpaceX, Inspiration Mars, Mars One]

Terraforming Mars (Issue #24)

By:  Nicole Willett

The Sun has an approximate lifespan of ten billion years.  Most scientists believe we are about halfway through that life span.  Recently scientists have stated that the Sun will begin its death throes in about 2.8 billion years.  If humans behave in a way conducive to the health of the planet and themselves, we may still be in existence by then.  If that is the case we must be able to take humanity to a new home.  The Red Planet is a perfect first stop in this process.  He will survive longer than Earth.  But Mars will eventually perish as well.  In that case we must use Mars as a “practice” ground for learning how to take humanity to extrasolar planets in order to spread humanity around the galaxy.

blog 24NASA and other science organizations have been discussing a process called terraforming for a very long time.  Terraform means to make like Earth.  Many proposals have been submitted on the best way to make Mars like Earth.  The timelines proposed have varied from 100 years to 100,000 years.  We must find a balance between moving too fast and too slowly.  If we terrraform too fast, we may end up with a runaway greenhouse effect similar to what we see on Venus.  If we move too slow, we run the risk of other complications, such as the natural rhythms of the Red Planet changing during the process which could interfere and complicate any progress we may be making.  Terraforming Mars is of utmost importance in order to learn to live on other worlds.  Humanity must have the ability to be a multi-planet species in order to preserve Homo sapiens for millions or billions of years.

How could we go about terraforming Mars?  The 1,000 year plan seems to be a reasonable timeline.  If you utilize a version of Dr. Robert Zubrin’s, President and Founder of The Mars Society, Mars Direct plan, we would send up a series of habitats ahead of humans.  An automated system to manufacture fuel on the surface of Mars would be included in the initial payload.  This would allow the visitors to Mars to have a fuel supply ready for the return to Earth at a later date.   Humans would then take the six month trip and each crew would stay for 18 months, some may eventually choose to stay on the Red Planet.   Crews of Marsonauts would have an enormous responsibility to lay the groundwork for future Martians.

blog 24 natgeo3The first visitors would set up the habitat modules and start the greenhouse work.  When each successive group arrives at the initial home base, all necessary groundwork will have been laid for them to immediately begin working on the next set of tasks. This may include creature comforts.  In order for the settlers to feel at home on Mars, the habitats would need to be comfortable and roomy.  We would like the crew to feel at home, which will help with psychological concerns.  The greenhouses must also be a top priority.  COis already present in the atmosphere of Mars for plants to utilize for respiration, and they will return the favor by “exhaling” breathable O2 for the settlers.  Humans may feel depressed and isolated, but the aesthetic value of plants could make them feel more at home.  Plants will also serve as a major source of food which is essential to our survival.  They will also provide oxygen for breathing.  The Curiosity Rover has confirmed that the Martian soil is at least 2% water, so we will be able to heat up buckets of soil and extract water for plants and it must also be used for human consumption.  The H2O can also be divided into hydrogen for fuel and oxygen for breathing when necessary.  After we have perfected plants in greenhouses on the Red Planet, we may be able to allow bacteria and lichens, which are able to survive in arctic environments, to grow on the outside of the habitats and greenhouses.   The rovers on Mars have confirmed that the soil is already conducive to certain types of plants.

blog 24 natgeoNow we are ready for the next set of terraforming duties.  What is needed next is a nice thick and warm atmosphere.  Several suggestions have been proposed as to which approach for this is best.  Ideas have been as varied as giant orbiting mirrors to nuclear explosions and everything in between.  A common suggestion has been to release the CO2 frozen in the soil and in the polar ice caps into the atmosphere using factories spewing out what we consider greenhouse gases on Earth.  Whichever tactic is utilized to thicken the atmosphere, once it is warm enough for the polar ice and ground ice to melt and turn some H2O to liquid and some to gas then we are well on our way to add more complex plant life.  The water cycle should begin to look more Earthlike.  Rivers should start to flow, seas will develop, and rain will fall.  Regular weather patterns will develop and Martian meteorologists will surely scramble to predict weather as they do now on Earth.  Next we will add insects and flowering plants.  The soil will become more enriched with the addition of each more complex organism.  This will allow for the addition of even more complex plants and animals in succession periodically, for instance large trees will allow forests to take hold.

blog 24 natgeo2Energy is a must for the spread of civilization.  It is hoped that we have learned from our mistakes on Earth, and we will use all clean energy with little waste on Mars.  Transportation and city planning systems will be developed.  An entire new branch of humanity will start to evolve on the new Mars.  Plants and animals will grow and change over time being separated from their parent species on Earth.  Entire ecosystems will develop on their own trajectory, separate from all life on Earth.  Over the 1,000 year period Mars will be turned from a vast desert with a coral sky into a bountiful planet full of life with a beautiful blue sky.  It may look similar to Earth, but the inhabitants will become truly Martian.

Recently Dr. Zubrin spoke about the importance of humanity rallying from different countries to go together to Mars.  This is an important step in terraforming the planet.  We are all aware that people from all over the world may have important contributions to make to a manned mission to Mars.  Our lack of sociological maturity should not stand in the way of such a humanity altering event.  Borders on maps should not prevent the forward motion of science, technology, and exploration.  It is time to band together as Earthlings to accomplish this goal.  There is nothing beyond our technological ability to stop us from reaching Mars and settling there.  Terraforming is the next necessary step in this plan.

[Images: Wikipedia, NatGeo, NatGeo, NatGeo]

Rovers and Spaceships Everywhere! (Issue #23)

Rover and Engineering Design Competitions- Levels:  5th grade thru Undergraduate

By: Nicole Willett, Chuck McMurray and The Mars Society

The Mars Society is host to three (3) design challenges.  They range in age from middle school thru college level.  The middle and high school level challenge was launched at the 16th Annual Mars Society Convention this past August.  It is called the Youth Rover Challenge.  One of the undergraduate challenges is called the University Rover Challenge and it has had several very successful seasons so far.  The final challenge was also launched at the convention in August.  It is an international student design competition.

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 sandbox where the robotic rover operates is intended to be replicated so participants can operate the competition locally at your school, home or club. The Rover built for the competition is pre-designed to accomplish specific experiments (tasks) similar to what Mars Rovers accomplish today on the surface of Mars and other harsh environments on remote places on Earth. The competition is operated on-site at your self-built sandbox and the final operation of the field tasks are then videotaped and sent to each teams personalized YRC site for submission. Teams that have submitted videos that show the final operation of the rover completing the tasks under a time limit are then ranked against other teams.  The YRC is designed to prepare students for the University Rover Challenge that has operated successfully for the last 7 years directed by The Mars Society.

The University Rover Challenge (URC) is the world’s premier robotics competition for college students.  The URC has officially kicked off its 2014 competition.  This competition challenges students to design and build the next generation of Mars rovers which will one day work alongside astronauts on the Red Planet.

URC2Teams spend the academic year designing, building and testing their robotic creations. They will compete at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in the remote, barren desert of southern Utah in late May, 2014. The challenge features multiple tasks, including an Equipment Servicing Task that incorporates inflatable structures, and a more aggressive incarnation of the popular Terrain Traversing Task.

URC is unique in the challenges that it presents to students. Interdisciplinary teams will tackle robotics, engineering and field science domains, while gaining real-world systems engineering and project management experience.  University teams interested in participating can view the URC2014 rules online. The official registration process will open in early November; however teams are encouraged to begin their work now.

The Mars Society recently announced the launch of 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.

Insp marsInspiration 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.”

Insp mars shipThe 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.  Alumni, professors and other university staff may participate as well, but the teams must be predominantly composed of and led by students. All competition presentations must be completed exclusively by students. Teams will be required to submit their design reports in writing by March 15, 2014. From there, a down-select will occur with the top 10 finalist teams invited to present and defend their designs before a panel of six judges chosen (two each) by the Mars Society, Inspiration Mars and NASA. The presentations will take place during a public event at NASA Ames Research Center in April 2014.

Designs will be evaluated using a scoring system, allocating a maximum of 30 points for cost, 30 points for technical quality of the design, 20 points for operational simplicity and 20 points for schedule with a maximum total of 100 points. The first place team will receive a prize of $10,000, an all-expenses paid trip to the 2014 International Mars Society Convention and a trophy to be presented by Dennis Tito at that event. Prizes of $5,000, $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 will also be awarded for second through fifth place.  All designs submitted will be published, and Inspiration Mars will be given non-exclusive rights to make use of any ideas contained therein.

Commenting on the contest, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin said, “The Mars Society is delighted to lead this effort. This contest will provide an opportunity for legions of young engineers to directly contribute their talent to this breakthrough project to open the space frontier.”

For more information on any of the above competitions email us at info@marssociety.org.

[Images: Chuck McMurray, The Mars Society, Inspiration Mars]