Mars Society a Convention a Great Success
August 7, 2006
For further information about the Mars Society, visit our website at
The Ninth International Mars
Society Convention, held in Washington DC August 3-6, 2006 was a great success. Over 400 people attended. Speakers included
NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Scott Horowitz, NASA Associate Administrator
for Legislative Affairs Brian Chase, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Space Telescope Science Institute Director Matt Mountain, former
NASA Mars Exploration program Director Scott Hubbard, Mars Society President Robert Zubrin, Australian Astronaut Andy Thomas, leading
exobiologists Chris McKay and Penelope Boston, NSS Executive Director George Whitesides, Space Adventures Vice President Chris Faranetta,
and over a hundred others.
The conference was keynoted on the morning of Thursday August 3rd by Mike
Griffin, who explained his plan to create a program that would enable human Mars exploration expeditions before the end of
the 2020's. He was then followed by Elon Musk, who presented his plans for the privately funded creation of a line of launch
vehicles that could make space travel cheap enough to allow the actual settlement of Mars. Brian Chase followed, explaining
the parameters of the political battle faced by the Vision for Space Exploration, emphasizing the need to keep the grass roots
coalition supporting the Moon-Mars initiative united and active.
Over a hundred Mars Society members
then left the conference for Capitol Hill to spend the afternoon meeting with Congressmen and congressional and Senatorial
staff. Traveling from office to office in twenty groups of about 5 people each, the Mars Society members held over 100 half-hour meetings,
underscoring the need for the Congress to support the Moon-Mars initiative, and, in fact, to accelerate it; to keep it a Moon-Mars
program and not allow it to decay into a Moon-only program; and to insure funding and full support for a Shuttle mission to
save the Hubble Space Telescope. The overwhelming response to the visits was positive. Particularly noteworthy was the response
of a key aide to likely Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hilary Clinton, who assured the Mars Society activists that
she was "fully onboard" with our program.
Returning to the conference exhilarated, the activists
rejoined other conference attendees to attend a reception and then kick back for the evening watching a presentation about
Mars in the movies, and then previewing the great documentary film "The Mars Underground," by Scott Gill. This movie, which
has already aired in Europe and Australia to rave reviews, is the first to convey the passion and the vision behind the effort
to get humans to Mars. It will be out in the USA this December in DVD, and may air on TV at about that time. Stay tuned.
The Friday morning plenary session was led off by Scott Horowitz, followed by Matt Mountain and Scott
Hubbard. Horowitz laid out in greater technical detail NASA's plan for the Moon-Mars program, and thanked the Mars Society
for the work it was doing in support of the vision. Mountain's presentation made clear the enormous value of Hubble for science,
and the importance of the fight to save it. This was underscored in comments made by Mars Society president Robert Zubrin.
"The Hubble is the most productive scientific instrument in human history, and by far the most important accomplishment of
the NASA manned spaceflight program in the past 30 years. So what is involved in the decision to save Hubble is the integrity
of the space agency. Is NASA really interested in advancing science, or are its claims to that effect just so much baloney
that they say in order to get funds to distribute to aerospace contractors? Do we have a purpose driven space program, or
don't we?" Mountain agreed, and thanked the Mars Society for its fierce defense of this treasure of human civilization.
After the morning session, the conference divided into five parallel tracks, to allow the maximum number
of attendees the opportunity to present papers on every aspect of Mars exploration and settlement. (The full agenda and list
of papers is posted at the Mars society website at www.marssociety.org.) The evening session was then devoted to a stirring
panel discussion about the need to accept risk in human space exploration.
The Saturday morning session
was led off by Zubrin, who laid out how far the Mars Society had come since its founding in 1998, when its ideas were ruled
out completely by those in power, and the possibility of their ever being accepted was discounted by the gaggle of cynics
and self-proclaimed experts who hang about the periphery of the space program. In eight years, our ideas have gone from Quixotic to
mainstream, and now the task is to make sure they are implemented, and not stopped either by those who oppose the Vision altogether,
or those charlatans who are currently peddling fraudulent promises of cheap electricity beamed from Lunar solar power stations
in order to lure the public into accepting an initiative degraded to a Moon-only objective.
have a fundamentally base understanding of human nature," Zubrin said. "They use deceit, and appeal to greed. They try to
tempt people to support space with a false promise of saving them some money at the pump. We say we need to go to Mars because
it is the planet that has the resources to support the birth of a new branch of human civilization, because that is what this
is really about – creating an open human future where people will have the freedom to be the makers of their worlds,
not just the inhabitants of a world already made, and growing ever narrower and more regulated as it seeks to constrain human
aspirations to accept ever tighter limits. In the battle of ideas we will beat theirs, because ours are based on truth. We
will win by building a movement based on Hope rather than Greed."
Zubrin was followed by Australian
Astronaut Andy Thomas, a veteran of a five-month mission to the Russian Space Station Mir, a Columbia and an ISS mission,
and most recently, STS 114, the summer 2005 mission commanded by Eileen Collins which returned the Shuttle to flight. Thanking
the Mars Society for everything it is doing, Thomas presented Zubrin with a Mars Society flag that the STS 114 crew had brought
to orbit with them on their historic mission. The morning session was then rounded out by exobiologist Chris McKay, who laid out
the key issues involved in the search for life in the universe.
During the afternoon, dozens of additional
presentations were made in the parallel track sessions, and the Mars Society Steering Committee also met. Most of the discussion
at the Steering Committee meeting revolved around plans for the four-month Mars mission simulation crew expedition to the
Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) on Devon Island. For four months, May-August 2007, this crew of seven people
will engage in sustained program of active field exploration 900 miles from the North pole, while operating in the same mode
and under the same constraints that an actual human expedition would need to face on Mars. Nothing like this has ever been
done. By doing it we will learn a great deal about how to explore on Mars, while inspiring missions of people around the world
with the tangible vision of human exploration of Mars.
It was decided that in order to insure the
best chance for success of the mission, an engineering team would be sent to FMARS in advance, to inspect and upgrade the
facility and make sure no damage had been done to it by natural or human causes in the interim since it was last used in the
summer of 2005. A robust telescience team to back up the mission will also be created. The formal call for crew volunteers
will go out soon, with the goal of selecting the crew commander by the end of October, and the full crew by the
end of November. In order to assure the widest possible field of candidates from which to select a crack crew, the Mars Society
will pay crew transportation expenses to the Arctic. After selection, the crew will perform a two-week practice mission at
the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah in February.
Other decisions made at the Steering Committee
included a go-ahead to initiate an intercollegiate Mars rover competition. The contest will differ from the several other
rover/robot competitions that have been held by others in that it will not only be concerned with the rover mobility system.
Instead, in this contest, the rovers, equipped with cameras and remotely commanded, will be made to run through a stretch of
desert terrain with interesting and complex geology, and the operating teams will attempt to make and correctly interpret
as many discoveries about the geology of the site as they can. The team that makes the most correctly-interpreted discoveries will
win. The contest will thus be interdisciplinary, just as actual Mars missions are, requiring participation both by engineers
and natural scientists. The complete rules for the contest will be published shortly.
that will be taken will be a worldwide 5k race to raise money for the Mars Society's exploration projects. Details will follow
Saturday night the Mars Society held its annual banquet, with entertainment provided by Mars
musicians Bob McNally and Bebe Serrato. After the entertainment, Zubrin gave a brief talk laying out the plan for the 4-month
FMARS 2007 expedition, calling upon those present to make it possible by funding it. Over $50,000 was raised.
On Sunday, the morning plenaries were led off by George Whitesides and Penelope Boston, who gave a fascinating talk
about the need for joint human/robot exploration. The final plenary was given by Chris Faranetta, of Space Adventures, whose
company is pulling together a Russian-made hardware set involving the Soyuz capsule and the Proton launcher to allow paying
tourists to go on circum Lunar orbital voyages starting in 2009.
After further parallel track talks, the conference closed at 3 PM.
All of the
conference talks were videotaped, and will soon be available for purchase on DVDs. Ordering information will follow soon.
In addition, papers written by presenters are being collected, and will eventually be published in book form.
In sum, it was a terrific conference.
For further information about the Mars Society, visit
our website at