The Mars Society seeks to educate the public, media and government about the importance of space exploration and the necessity of a strong and sustainable Mars exploration program, including a humans-to-Mars mission in the coming decade.  To that end, the organization regularly posts various announcements, releases and articles about ongoing Mars exploration and research, as well as Mars Society news and activities.  We welcome any feedback regarding this effort.  Thank you!   

The Second-Best Plan

posted Jul 22, 2014, 5:33 AM by M Stoltz   [ updated Jul 22, 2014, 5:34 AM ]

By Dr. Robert Zubrin
Space News, 07.21.14

Recently, an advisory committee assembled by the National Research Council (NRC) published a report titled “Pathways to Exploration” calling for redirection of NASA’s human spaceflight program. The report is written in a somewhat obscure form of bureaucratese, so as a public service I will provide a brief summary in English.

The NRC report translates as follows: NASA should build a lunar base.

The NRC committee authors never present this as their conclusion. Rather, they attempt to induce the reader to draw it for himself or herself, via the following subtle logic:

1. NASA needs a definite and inspirational goal for its human spaceflight program, and that goal should be the human exploration of Mars.

2. There are three paths to get humans to Mars:

(a) Perform the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). Then send humans to Phobos. Then send humans to Mars.

(b) Build a space station at Lagrange point L2. Then send astronauts to the Moon. Then send astronauts to near-Earth asteroids. Then send astronauts to Phobos. Then send humans to Mars.

(c) Build a Moon base. Then send humans to Mars.

3. Options (a) and (b) make no sense. So choose one of the remaining options.

I must admit that presented with this set of alternatives, the Moon base path seems very attractive.

I am going to criticize this report, but before I do, I would like to point out some parts where it really got things right.

To read the full article, please click here.

Image: RIA

To Mars, Not the Moon

posted Jul 21, 2014, 9:26 PM by M Stoltz   [ updated Jul 21, 2014, 9:26 PM ]

By Dr. Robert Zubrin
U.S. News & World Report, 07.21.14

As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, our space program finds itself adrift. But this need not be so. The great deeds we accomplished then demonstrate what we can do when we are brave. The time is overdue for America to commit itself to a bold new venture in space: the human exploration and settlement of Mars.

We're ready. Despite the greater distance to Mars, we are much better prepared today to send humans to Mars than we were to launch humans to the moon in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to achieve that goal. Given the will, we could have our first teams on Mars within 10 years.

It needn't break the bank, either. If done intelligently – with expenditures made for the purpose of accomplishing the mission, rather than the mission designed for the purpose of justifying expenditures – the cost of the Mars program would be about $20 billion to develop all the hardware needed. After that, each mission would cost between $1 and $2 billion.

To read the full article, please click here.

Why NASA Is Stagnant

posted Jul 20, 2014, 12:22 PM by M Stoltz

By Dr. Robert Zubrin
National Review, 07.20.14

Today is the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. As the nation celebrates that great achievement, there is also reason for solemn reflection. For while NASA was able to put men on the Moon within eight years of the Apollo program’s start, the space agency has been unable to go further in the four and a half decades since. In fact, it is no longer capable of going to the Moon and, as these lines are written, is totally adrift, with no real plan for going anywhere.

If we are to remedy the space agency’s current impotence, we need to look at its history.

Over the course of its life, NASA has employed two distinct modes of operation. The first prevailed during the period from 1961 to 1973, and may therefore be called the Apollo Mode. The second, prevailing since 1974, may usefully be called the Random Mode.

In the Apollo Mode, business is conducted as follows. First, a destination for human space flight is chosen. Then a plan is developed to achieve the objective. Following this, technologies and designs are developed to implement the plan. These designs are then built, after which the mission is flown.

The Random Mode operates entirely differently. In this mode, technologies and hardware elements are developed in accord with the wishes of various technical communities. These projects are then justified by arguments that they might prove useful at some time in the future when grand flight projects are once again initiated.

To read the full commentary, please click here.

Image: NASA

Full Program Itinerary for 2014 Mars Society Convention Available Online

posted Jul 18, 2014, 4:02 PM by M Stoltz   [ updated Jul 20, 2014, 5:42 AM ]

The Mars Society posted today the full program itinerary for the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention, scheduled for August 7-10 in
League City, Texas, just outside Houston near NASA's Johnson Space Center.
This important four-day event will bring together leading experts, scientists and policymakers to discuss the latest news and research about Mars exploration, planning for a humans-to-Mars mission and other related space issues.
Convention highlights to include:
+ An address by former NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin on U.S. planning for humans-to-Mars.
+ A briefing by NASA Johnson Space Center's Dr. Everett Gibson about the search for biosignatures on Mars.
+ An update on the history-making Kepler space telescope by NASA Ames Research Center's William Borucki.
+ An address by Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin on how we can reach Mars in the coming decade.
+ A briefing by NASA Manager Todd May on the status of the Space Launch System program.
+ An update by Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp about planning for human settlement of the Red Planet.
+ A discussion by NASA Johnson Space Center's Gerald Sanders on In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) on Mars.
+ A talk by Inspiration Mars Executive Director Dr. Dennis Tito about planning for a Mars fly-by mission and the final round of oral presentations for the International Inspiration Mars Student Design Contest.
To view the Mars Society convention’s full program itinerary, please click here. 

Buzz Aldrin: It’s Time to Put a Man on Mars

posted Jul 15, 2014, 12:56 PM by M Stoltz

By Dr. Buzz Aldrin
Time Magazine, 07.15.14

On the 45th anniversary of the moon landing, the U.S. should decide on the necessary steps to explore Mars with the eventual goal of establishing a manned settlement there.

It's hard to believe that on July 20, 2014, we'll be celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11, man's first landing on the moon. It's also hard to believe that no one can really say where the U.S. manned space exploration program is heading and how we're going to get there. People come up to me and say, "It's too bad the space program got canceled." Which is not the case and yet that is what most of the public thinks has happened. Yes, we hear from NASA that the destination is Mars - and yet there is no detailed plan on how to get there. No one can seem to agree on a clear path. The nation is understandably focused on many other pressing challenges at the moment. However, if we don't make some important decisions about the future of our space program very soon, I'm afraid the program will be lost to the ages.

To read the full article, please click here.

[Blog] Life on Mars

posted Jul 15, 2014, 12:47 PM by M Stoltz   [ updated Jul 15, 2014, 12:48 PM ]

By Nicole Willett
Red Planet Pen, Issue #29

Throughout 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.

Levin 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 designed to determine whether the result was chemical or biological. The control had a negative result indicating the positive 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.

To read the full blog, please click here.

Mars Society Facebook Page Tops 10,000 "Likes"

posted Jul 9, 2014, 8:46 AM by M Stoltz   [ updated Jul 9, 2014, 8:47 AM ]

We're very pleased to announce that the Mars Society's official Facebook page has just reached *10,000* 'Likes', showing the broad and growing support for our organization's mission to advocate for Mars exploration and humans-to-Mars planning and research. 

Thanks to everyone who has visited our page and signed on as a supporter! On to 20,000!

Don't Forget the June 30th Deadline -- 2014 Mars Society Convention Abstract Submission & Early Registration

posted Jun 30, 2014, 7:40 AM by M Stoltz   [ updated Jun 30, 2014, 7:41 AM ]

The Mars Society will be convening the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention in League City, Texas (outside Houston near NASA’s Johnson Space Center) on August 7-10, 2014. The four-day event will bring together key experts, scientists, government policymakers and aerospace executives to discuss the latest news on Mars exploration and planning for a humans-to-Mars mission in the coming decade.
Monday, June 30th at 5:00 pm MDT marks the official deadline for two important points of this year's Mars Society Convention: 1) 
Submitting an abstract for consideration on matters associated with the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet, and 2) Signing up for early registration for the convention, which provides a discounted rate for purchasing tickets for the Houston-based conference.

Zubrin Challenges Chang Diaz to Debate at Mars Society Convention in Houston

posted Jun 26, 2014, 1:34 PM by M Stoltz   [ updated Jun 26, 2014, 1:35 PM ]

Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin has challenged Ad Astra President & CEO Dr. Franklin Chang Diaz to a debate at the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention, which will be held in Ad Astra’s hometown of Houston, Texas August 7-10, 2014. The proposed debate proposition is: Resolved “Electric Propulsion in an Enabling Technology for Human Mars Exploration,” with Dr. Chang Diaz representing the affirmative side and Dr. Zubrin the negative side.
Commenting on the challenge, Dr. Zubrin said, “This debate is critically necessary. Dr. Chang Diaz has been actively propagandizing an argument combining three claims. First, that cosmic radiation hazards dictate that current day propulsion, which enables six month transits from Earth to Mars, is too slow to enable
human mission to Mars. Second, that therefore much faster forms of interplanetary propulsion are necessary before we dare undertake human Mars exploration missions. Third, that his VASIMR propulsion system would uniquely enable such quick trips.
“In fact, all three of these points are false. First, the roughly 60 Rem cosmic ray dose that would be received by astronauts over the course of a round-trip Mars mission using 6 month transits involves about a 1 percent risk of cancer later in life, and has already been experienced by half a dozen cosmonauts and astronauts who have conducted extended stays on the ISS or Mir without any radiological causalities. Second, it is thus the case that interplanetary transits faster than six months are not necessary or even desirable, because the six month transit to Mars also provides the crew with a two-year free return trajectory, which would be lost if a faster outbound transit were attempted. Therefore if a superior propulsion system, like nuclear thermal rockets, were available that could, in principle, speed up the transit, competent mission planners would use it to increase the payload, and thus the redundancy of mission critical systems, while keeping the transit time the same, as this would do far more to increase both the safety and capability of the mission. Thirdly, it is simply not true that Dr. Chang Diaz’s VASIMR drive or any other electric propulsion system is capable of enabling the quick trips that Dr. Chang Diaz promises. Such claims are based on assuming nuclear electric power systems with 10,000 times the power and 1/100th the mass per unit power as any that have ever been built. In reality, using realistic numbers, electric propulsion systems would require much longer transit times to the Red Planet than what we can already do today. 
“So Dr. Chang Diaz’s argument for the critical necessity of his technology is false end-to-end, and simply amounts to a claim that the nation cannot attempt its program unless it funds his program. Furthermore, by making a false argument for the critical role of high power electric propulsion in enabling Mars missions, the Chang Diaz line serves not only as a rationale for avoiding the challenge of Mars, but also provides justification undertaking irrelevant activities, such as the proposed mission to use a large electric propulsion system to tow a 500 ton boulder from interplanetary space into lunar orbit. This exercise threatens to divert NASA’s human spaceflight program from other objectives, thereby delaying human exploration of Mars (or the Moon or the Near Earth asteroids) for another decade, while the taxi meter on the parked human spaceflight program continues to run at a cost of many billions of dollars per year.
“So Dr. Chang Diaz either needs to come forth and publicly defend his assertions or else clearly disavow them. We have challenged him to come and debate twice before at other locations, and he did not appear. Now our conference is being held in his hometown of Houston, so there is no excuse for him not to show up.”
Dr. Zubrin’s challenge was sent to Dr. Chang Diaz on June 13th. In the 13 days since, Dr. Chang Diaz has not replied. According to Dr. Zubrin, if Dr. Chang Diaz does not appear at the Houston convention, he will be forced to accept an empty chair as Dr. Chang Diaz’s representative and conduct the debate on that basis.
Dr. Zubrin’s letter to Dr. Chang Diaz containing the challenge and proposed terms of the debate is presented below.
June 13, 2014
Dear Franklin,
As you probably know, the Mars Society is holding its annual convention this year in Houston, at the South Shore Harbour Resort, not far from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, August 7-10.
I would like to invite you to debate on the following question: "Electric Propulsion is an Enabling Technology for Human Mars Exploration."
I suggest a true formal debate, one on one. You for affirmative, me for negative. Each side would have 20 minutes to present an opening statement, affirmative then negative. This would be followed by a 10 minute rebuttal by each side, affirmative then negative.
The debate would then be opened for 30 minutes of questions from the audience, which could be directed to either panelist, for a one minute answer and then a one minute response from the other.
I believe that this would be an excellent way to bring to light all sides of this issue and the broader challenges facing human Mars exploration in general.
The debate could be on August 7, 8, or 10 during the day or on August 7 or 8 as an evening event.
What do you say? Are you in?
The 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention will be held at the South Shore Harbour Resort, League City, Texas, just outside Houston near the NASA Johnson Space Center, August 7-10, 2014. Online registration is now open. In addition to the Zubrin-Chang Diaz debate, the conference will also feature plenary talks by many prominent speakers, as well as the final face-off competition of the International Inspiration Mars Student Design Contest for proposed designs for a two-person human Mars flyby mission to be conducted in the near future. Those wishing to present papers at the conference should submit 300 word abstracts by 5:00 pm MDT, June 30, 2014 to  Also, please note that discount advanced registration for the conference expires June 30, 2014. For further information about the Mars Society, please visit our website.


NASA Viking Scientist Dr. Gil Levin to Address 2014 Mars Society Convention

posted Jun 24, 2014, 7:58 PM by M Stoltz   [ updated Jun 24, 2014, 7:59 PM ]

Dr. Gilbert V. Levin, a former NASA scientist and engineer and Principle Investigator for the 1976 Mars Viking lander mission’s Labeled Release (LR) life detection experiment, will give a plenary talk at the 17th Annual International Mars Society Convention, scheduled for August 7-10 in League City, Texas near NASA’s Johnson Space Center. 

As the primary investigator of Viking’s LR experiment, Dr. Levin viewed the life-detecting test as a success, citing positive results at both Viking landing sites. A consensus in the scientific community did not, however, accept the results as proof of life on Mars. After years of additional research, Dr. Levin concluded in 1997 that the LR experiment had in fact detected life on the Red Planet. 

In addition to Dr. Levin’s extensive role in Viking, he was also a Team Member on the Goddard Space Flight Center’s IRIS Experiment flown aboard Mars Mariner 9 in 1971 to study the atmosphere of Mars. He worked as a member of the Scientific Instrument Team for NASA’s experiment on the ill-fated Russian ’96 Mars Mission and serves as a scientific adviser of the International Committee Against Mars Sample Return. 

Dr. Levin attended John Hopkins University, receiving a B.E. degree in Civil Engineering in 1947, a M.S. degree in Sanitary Engineering in 1948 and a Ph.D. degree in Environmental Engineering in 1963. In 1967, Dr. Levin founded Biospherics Research Inc. (now Spherix Inc.), where he served as President and CEO until 2003 and Chairman of the Board until 2007.

For full details about the 2014 International Mars Society Convention, please click here

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