It’s been three months since I was appointed as Executive Director by Robert and our Board of Directors, with the broad support of our Steering Committee, members, and supporters, and I wanted to provide everyone an update on how I see things progressing in my new role.
The Mars Society was founded nearly 25 years ago to inspire the next generation of explorers to visit and settle Mars. In this time, we have established ourselves as a leader in the space advocacy community and we have inspired many to follow our cause.
This Friday, I will be participating in a panel discussion titled “Space Advocacy Organizations: Change the World” with Michelle Hanlon, President of the National Space Society, and Angela Peura, a strategic communications specialist at NASA Headquarters and President of the International Space University US Alumni Association. (You can Register Here and use the promo code “15OFF” to get a discount on your ticket.)
Now it’s time to motivate more people to make a difference by expanding and enhancing our activities as an organization. This year, we have already announced one major initiative, the Telerobotic Mars Expedition Design Contest (TMEDC), which will conclude at our international convention in October. We hope to make use of the winning designs, along with the contest’s requirement for a human-sized lander of 10 tons or more, to be used as concrete program ideas that may accelerate planning for a human mission to Mars.
I see the role of Executive Director as leading our fundraising activities, conducting regular strategic planning, enhancing our program delivery, and improving our organizational operations. To these ends, I have engaged a range of people to get advice, feedback on what we’ve done so far as an organization, and ideas of what we can do in the future.
After speaking with our advisors and partners, it is clear to me that we should be doing three core activities to meet our organization’s mission:
Promote the adventure of living and working on Mars among the public;
Develop education and outreach programs that engage, inspire and (most importantly) train and educate those who will live and work on the red planet with the skills they will need;
Build and maintain a roadmap that results in the human exploration of Mars within a decade, and convene and partner with industry, government, and academia to ensure our plans come to fruition.
To these ends, I will have more to say soon about our analog programs, educational initiatives, and planned hybrid convention (in-person with virtual participants) this October. And to these ends, we will need broad support to expand and enhance our organization’s abilities to tackle all of these opportunities.
As tax season nears, please consider sending in a tax-deductible contribution to help support the Mars Society, a registered 501(c)3 non-profit. Using our donation form, you can specify which program you would like to support or choose to allocate your contribution to the area of greatest need. You can also send us a cryptocurrency donation, or even donate Marscoin.
I’ve been into cutting-edge technology my whole life, and I have always been interested in bringing the skills and technology I’ve learned in the private sector to help nonprofit organizations with worthwhile causes.
I began volunteering while I was in high school, going door to door talking about environmental issues and raising money for a toxic Superfund cleanup effort in Ohio. In college, I organized informal classes with a campus service organization to help other students learn how to use the Internet, build websites, and use Microsoft Word and Excel to their full effectiveness.
After college I moved to Seattle where I had gotten a job working at Microsoft. While I established my career during the day, on nights and weekends I continued volunteering. Soon after starting at Microsoft, I came across a new nonprofit called The Mars Society, which is now the world’s largest space advocacy nonprofit organization dedicated to settling Mars. Members of the Mars Society include Elon Musk, Buzz Aldrin, and many experts in the fields of science, technology and human factors research as they apply to exploring and someday settling the Red Planet. I was immediately intrigued and joined the organization as a founding member in their first year.
At the 1999 annual convention, I presented on how the organization
could create a world-class web presence to advance its goals and support its
technical projects. The organization was
working to establish two analog research bases to practice living and working
on Mars, one in extreme northern Canada and one in the deserts of Utah. In the two decades that followed, I continued
volunteering to help the organization to build and grow its web presence and the
use of modern technologies in all aspects of its projects and operations.
In recent years, I set up a hybrid cloud using Microsoft Azure, WordPress,
and other technologies to host our websites and store & process data for
our projects. I supported others across
the organization to implement modern cloud-based SaaS offerings to support the functions
and processes of the organization. I digitized
and modernized our membership database, allowing the organization to grow its paid
annual membership (a key fundraising source) from several hundred members to
over ten thousand. I established volunteer
recruitment and onboarding processes to bring on and train hundreds of
volunteers to assist with our technical projects and annual events.
Today, the Mars Society’s web and social media presences routinely
reach tens of thousands of people across the globe, and we provide news,
information, and commentary about how current events and developments enhance
the possibilities of sending humans to Mars and further exploring the planet
robotically. We have expanded our
digital footprint across all social media and sites like Reddit where we can reach
space enthusiasts of all ages directly and very effectively.
My efforts resulted in my being awarded an Outstanding Volunteer
award from the Society and being publicly recognized for my work in expanding
and modernizing the organization’s web presence. In 2011, I was made a senior officer and given
the title of Director of Information Technology.
In 2017, I began an effort to integrate virtual reality
technologies with our physical Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. By successfully conducting a Kickstarter
fundraising effort which raised over thirty thousand dollars, we were able to
scan and translate the physical terrain in Utah and our Mars analog facilities
into a virtual reality application that is used for crew training and public
outreach. In 2018, after winning my third
Outstanding Volunteer award for my work on the VR project and our online encyclopedia
Marspedia.org, I was added to the prestigious Steering Committee.
In 2020, I organized our first online virtual convention, which was wildly successful by having ten thousand registered attendees, a record for our annual event. We were able to get many prominent speakers such as Elon Musk and the NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to virtually attend the event. This also included current and former NASA scientists, researchers and others from academia and the private sector. We conducted the event using the most modern virtual meeting technologies and high-quality virtual experiences that allowed attendees to meet, network and communicate as if they were at an in-person event. We repeated the event in 2021 and had a full-size Virtual Reality room where attendees could network and participate in the sessions by asking questions of the speakers from the VR room that was a video attendee on the Zoom call. It was very slick and cutting-edge!
In December 2021, I began work as the full-time Executive Director of the Mars Society. In my new role, I am conducting strategic planning and a systematic approach to fundraising that will enable new programs and capabilities for the organization. We hope to conduct a new set of expeditions to our Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station on Devon Island, Canada, and begin new educational and research programs.
I will be commanding a crew at the Mars Desert Research Station in April 2023 with a multi-national crew of researchers. We plan to conduct several experiments including biological, medical, psychological and other human factors, and also to instrument and collect data from ourselves and from the whole MDRS campus.
Someday, in the near future, I believe the first human being will
set foot on Mars. When that moment
happens, I imagine I will feel a personal sense of accomplishment having brought
that moment into being through my over twenty years of volunteering. I know that my efforts have resulted in the
organization’s ability to dramatically amplify its advocacy of the exploration
of the red planet.
Is there a Space Race happening right now? It’s hard for me to believe, but some people doubt this. This article provides some evidence as well as concrete goals.
Anybody who knows me personally understands how intense of a person I am, and my skills of being able to research into topics and technologies. And, I have been interested in space — intensely interested — since I was 8 years old. I’m 43 now, so that means I have been intensely aware of what’s been happening globally with space exploration for the past 35 years.
Right now I am seeing more positive activity towards our future in space than I have ever seen in my life. Let me take you through what I mean…
A Space Race to me refers to a race by two or more countries (or companies/organizations) towards a specific goal. There is evidence for multiple space races wherever you look today. Countries like China, companies like SpaceX, and organizations like NASA and Roscosmos are sprinting towards space goals.
Here is a broad set of goals that are being raced to:
Mankind landed on the moon first in 1969 and last in 1972, but it was a very limited program of human exploration: only 6 sites, all of which clustered in a region facing the Earth (the near-side) and at mid-latitudes. One could argue that those landings, while exciting in an of themselves, did not occur at exciting places.
The discovery of water in 2009 at the lunar south pole, and the long-known viability of the far side of the moon for radio astronomy makes those places more interesting destinations. That’s why China recently landed a robotic lander & rover on the far side. During that mission, they also grew the first plants on the Moon. How can one think they are not racing to the Moon?
The Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, recently announced that NASA would go back to the moon (with humans) by 2024 and would land on the lunar south pole, because that’s where water resources can be found. NASA, who already had a goal of a lunar return, is now racing to create & lock plans to get American boots on the Moon (including the first woman on the Moon) within 5 years. Other countries I’m sure are noticing this.
I see those two examples as two gauntlets thrown down for others to work towards, and they will.
Here are the future goals for the lunar race that I see:
Land the first human on the Moon since 1972.
Land the first woman on the Moon.
Land a mission (human or robotic) on the lunar south pole for the first time.
Put a permanent space station in orbit around the Moon. (NASA’s Lunar Gateway plan is one example.)
Land a large cargo on the Moon for the first time. (Also something NASA is quickly working towards.)
Land a mission on the far-side, in response to the recent Chinese mission.
And finally, something that has been dreamed of and discussed since the 1950s:
7. Create a permanent human base on the Moon.
All of these are real goals that are being worked towards today.
In my opinion, there is no bigger challenge for today’s modern & technical society than to send the first human mission to Mars. It’s a goal that would inspire the world to achieve even more audacious things afterwards. The red planet beckons as humanity’s future second home, and a place unique in the rest of the solar system having all the resources and materials to host human life and a modern technological civilization. Mars has gravity (38% of Earth’s), an atmosphere (mostly carbon dioxide), abundant sources of liquid water beneath and (recently discovered) on the surface. Mars has a day-night cycle slightly over 24 hours, and (surprisingly) a total land area equal to Earth’s (since the Earth is mostly water).
Mars is a clear destination for human space exploration and quite frankly something we should have achieved already. Werner Von Braun had a credible plan for sending humans to Mars just after the Apollo mission but it was not funded by the Nixon administration (they decided to build the Space Shuttle instead). Dr. Robert Zubrin presented his Mars Direct plan in 1989 while NASA had the goal of landing on Mars from President George Bush (Sr.), but to this date it has never been seriously funded.
Yet, there is clear evidence that a human Mars race is on.
China recently built a $500 million Mars analog station in the Gobi desert, apparently in response to the Mars Society & NASA’s analog research programs. They have their sights on Mars; when I look at this picture, I have no doubt about that.
SpaceX is building the Starship & Super Heavy (the rocket system formerly known as “BFR”) which will use the cutting-edge Raptor engine design. I heard directly from SpaceX’s Tom Muller at the ISDC conference last year that “Raptor is coming” and that it would eclipse SpaceX’s Merlin engine as the world’s most powerful and most efficient engine. A Raptor was recently test-fired at SpaceX’s Boca Chica test site in southern Texas, and the Super Heavy will make use of 31 of them together. That’s a lot of space firepower and it’s meant to send humans to Mars (as well as back to the Moon).
Here are the clear goals for a Mars race:
Land the first human on Mars.
Flyby Mars with a human crew for the first time.
Orbit Mars with a human crew for the first time.
Land a mission (human or robotic) on the moons of Mars: Phobos and Deimos.
Land a large cargo mission on Mars (perhaps to begin creating oxygen and methane rocket fuel from the indigenous resources, a technique called In-Situ Resource Utilization or ISRU.)
Return the first samples from Mars. (Which NASA is already beginning to lay the groundwork with the Mars 2020 Rover and a full robotic Sample Return mission in upcoming budget requests.)
Grow the first plants on Mars (as Matt Damon’s character from The Martian movie would say: To Colonize Mars. “In your face Neal Armstrong!”) — by the way, Elon Musk wanted to do this prior to founding SpaceX.
And finally, to complete our settlement of a new world:
The Outer Planets, Moons, and Trans-Neptunian Objects
One could also easily come up with goals for a race to the outer solar system.
Recently, the United States sent the first mission to Pluto. The New Horizons probe was also able to explore the most distant object in the solar system, Ultima Thule, which was the first contact binary observed closely by humans.
Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, appears to be another water world (like Earth), with a frozen shell of a top layer, but a global ocean underneath. What wonders we may find underneath the ice of Europa. If you believe (as many do) that life requires liquid water to develop, and further that wherever there is liquid water there is a good chance for life, then Europa’s ocean is a prime target for the search for life in the universe. Forget SETI, send a mission to Europa!
Titan (the largest moon of Saturn) and Enceladus (another frozen water world) are also prime targets. Titan in many ways resembles an early version of Earth, with liquid methane on the surface and filling the thick atmosphere. In fact, Titan’s atmosphere is so thick, we couldn’t even see the surface until recently. There is much to learn about our home planet’s workings and global climate change by exploring Titan. We have already send a probe to land on Titan in 2005 — the Huygens probe as part of the Cassini mission — but it only functioned for 90 minutes on the surface. We can do better next time!
Here are some outer solar system goals, and there will be many more in the future after these are met — goals that involve human exploration:
Put an orbiter around Europa for the first time.
Land the first robotic probe on Europa.
Drill into the Europan ice crust and explore the global ocean with robotic probes.(Submarine fleet!)
Put an orbiter around the other large moons of Jupiter (such as Ganymede, Io and Callisto.)
Land a probe on those other large moons of Jupiter.
Put an orbiter around Titan.
Put a robust lander that can function long-term on the surface of Titan.
Put an orbiter around Enceladus.
Land on Enceladus.
Land on Pluto or Charon.
Explore the other large Trans-Neptunian Objects in the outer solar system such as Eris (which is larger than Pluto), Makemake, Quaoar, Orcus, Sedna, Varuna and Haumea.
I could go on, but you get the point. Our solar system has much still to explore — and in many ways, we are just getting started.
So, in closing, I believe not only is there one Space Race happening right now, there are many. The evidence is all around us and will continue to be present, if you know where to look.
A Space Race does not necessarily need to be a competition. If Russia or China gets people to Mars before the United States, I will be sad for a moment but also prideful for their achievement. After all, I have been working at that goal as part of the Mars Society for 21 years. So, I will cheer on all countries, companies, and organizations that attempt that goal, and all the others I’ve mentioned.
Let’s work together as brothers and sisters of the human race to accomplish these goals, for all humanity. We will all benefit greatly as a result… maybe the most important thing we will benefit from is realizing how special our home planet is, and having a better perspective on how it works, so we can make sure we take good care of it.
[Update: I led a special discussion panel at the 22nd Annual Mars Society Convention where we also covered this list, and encouraged conference attendees to create Mars-related technology startups.]
At both events, I presented this list of ideas of the different technologies that can be developed immediately to help build a human civilization on Mars, and also could form the foundation of a 21st century startup technology company.
For each technology, I provide the key goal of the technology as it relates to Mars settlement and a core problem in developing it.
In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU)
Goal: create methane-based fuels from CO2 and Water, using the Sabatier Reaction with indigenous martian air & water.
Problem: create a miniaturized extraction & conversion hardware solution, or one that can be massively upscaled to power a martian city.
Advanced Materials Production
Goal: Use indigenous Martian resources to create textiles, building materials, electronics components, etc.
Problem: new miniaturized equipment for materials processing, as well as new techniques would need to be invented and perfected.
Synthetic Mars Dirt
Goal: create lots of this – TONS will be needed on Earth for various projects and testing methods. Problem: we know the chemical compositions but adding accurate perchlorates might be expensive or tricky to do.
3-D Printing for Mars
Goal: print out bases, bricks, parts, food!, etc using indigenous materials, or (less desirable) lightweight feedstock shipped from Earth.
Problem: Super-reliable 3-D printers that can self replicate with appropriate feedstocks.
Goal: grow food crops with processed Martian soil.
Problem: how can you easily remove perchlorates and add nutrients? Maybe pair up fish as protein source and to make fertilizer… Also how do you easily store food and recycle water from food waste?
Closed-Loop Life Support
Goal: a life support system that can replenish itself (likely using plants) and can work for years at a time without maintenance.
Problem: never been demonstrated! We’re actually pretty far from this. Biosphere 2 tried this and was a disaster.
Goal: radiation hardened electronics that are newer than the 1970s/80s/90s. Raspberry Pi!
Problem: the lead times to do this are typically very long and it’s also very expensive. How can we make it easier.
Goal: create offroad personal transportation that is electric or methane fuel powered. How about an all-terrain Segway for astronauts to use while on EVA?
Problem: these need to be designed and tested on Earth before they are sent to (or 3-D printed on) Mars.
Goal: produce a drink closely resembling a traditional cup of Joe. Anybody want to found the Starbucks of Mars and make a few billion?
Problem: how do you grow the coffee beans and/or synthesize the constituents of GOOD coffee on Mars.
Goal: doing this on a small/large scale
Problem: how do you fit a chemistry lab on a rocket but also scale up to produce large amounts of fuel, air, drinking water, etc. Removing Perchlorates would be key as well.
Accredited Education with a Mars Focus
Goal: Create a certification training problem to teach all the skills needed to settle Mars: astronautics, materials tech, physics, chemistry, orbital mechanics.
Problem: This may be the easiest technology to develop!
Goal: create batteries able to handle different thermal environments.
Problem: One battery fire would kill the mission.
Dust Control with Air Scrubbers
Goal: how do you keep all the dust out of everything?
Problem: Mars dust is so small it is microscopic in some cases. How do you design a system that keeps everything clean while astronauts are repeatedly going on EVA and re-using their (very) dirty suits?
Goal: Shielding everything – magnetic fields to do this may be a promising solution. Has been lab-tested.
Problem: The exact amount of radiation needed to shield is unknown. The Mars 2020 rover may inform this.
Martian Concrete from Indigenous Materials
Goal: how can you easily create this, for various construction needs? One solution: Pycrete (86% water ice and 16% sawdust) has been used successfully on Earth and is very durable.
Problem: Nobody has every demonstrated this!
Dealing with 38% Earth Gravity
Goal: limit the fatigue and wear/tear on our bodies. How do you simulate it, what experiments can you run? How do bones develop/degrade? What about plants’ growth and life cycle?
Problem: so much needs to be done on this and nobody has done much.
Flight on Mars
Goal: Flying on mars is easier because of the lower gravity. Create Jetpacks, flying platforms, drones. The Mars Helicopter on the 2020 rover will hopefully demonstrate this for the first time.
Problem: little/no atmosphere requires some out of the box thinking! Traditional wing designs won’t work.
Goal: how do you sort through all the data coming back, not just photos but biomedical, habitat readouts, etc.
Problem: it’s a lot of data and we only have the NASA Deep Space Network as our “internet connection” for the moment.
Mars Bootcamp on Earth / Mars Analog Research
Goal: create high-fidelity simulations on Earth to train prospective astronauts. The Mars Society has gotten this going with our analog bases in the Arctic and Utah, but much more is needed.
Problem: Analog bases are expensive and require ongoing maintenance, and the best Mars analog environments are in places like the north pole or the middle of the desert, making logistics expensive and difficult.
Staying Fit in 38% Gravity
Goal: how best to stay healthy long-term in Mars gravity, and how to prepare Martians to re-acclimate to Earth’s gravity.
Problem: nobody has worked on this! How do you test it?
So pick any one of these twenty technologies, and start a business around it. Future martians will thank you, and you might even become rich in the process… because all of these technologies will have applications back on Earth.
Photos credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech and Universe Today.