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]

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]

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]