Spaceflight Insider

Highlights from 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention

2017 Mars Society Convention panel discussion with Dr. Robert Zubrin

Dr. Robert Zubrin addresses a crowd during a panel discussion at the 2017 Mars Society Convention featuring Greg Benford, David Brin, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle. Photo Credit: The Mars Society

IRVINE, Calif. — The 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention happened at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), during September 7–10, 2017. Among the highlights included were presentations by George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic and a keynote address by Anousheh Ansari, the first Iranian and self-funded female space tourist to visit the International Space Station (ISS). A variety of presentations were also made regarding various aspects of the exploration of Mars.

“This year’s convention was one of the best in years,” said Dr. Robert Zubrin, founder and president of the Mars Society. “I particularly enjoyed the panel of leading science fiction author’s offering their thoughts on the human future in space.” Dr. Zubrin was referencing a panel discussion held on the evening of Thursday, September 7, which included Greg Benford, David Brin, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle.

One of the eagerly anticipated presentations came early during the conference, on September 7, with a presentation by George Whitesides updating the audience on the test flight schedule for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo.

“We are ready to go into powered flight,” said Whitesides, adding that engine testing is complete and only a few more glide flights remain before the first powered tests.

Virgin Galactic has been flight testing a new version of SpaceShipTwo following an accident on October 31, 2014, which saw the loss of the first test vehicle in a mid-air disintegration due to the premature release of the craft’s innovative “feathering system” that uses the orientation of the craft’s main wings to slow it down during its descent through the atmosphere.

The keynote address was by Anousheh Ansari following a speech by Dr. Zubrin during a banquet held on Saturday evening. Her presentation was well received as she discussed her early inspiration for wanting to travel to space as well as elaborating on her 2006 trip to the ISS.

At the 2017 Mars Society Convention, George Whitesides (left image) and Anousheh Ansari (right image). Photos Credit: The Mars Society

Zubrin was also keen to highlight the organization’s accomplishments over the previous year, including the reactivation of the Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) during the Mars 160 mission this summer. In addition, 2017 saw 80 teams compete at the organizations University Rover Challenge, a new record, and 140 contestants participate in a student Mars art contest in its first year.

Zubrin is also optimistic about the potential direction NASA can take in light of the President Trump’s nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine to head NASA. “We now have a NASA administrator nominee who is worthy of support, and who we will support, in order to try to get a human spaceflight program that is actually going somewhere,” Zubrin said of Bridenstine.

Alluding to the Mars Society’s primary goal of advocating for a human mission to Mars, Zubrin added: “NASA has accepted humans to Mars as a long-term goal. We need to turn that vision into a program.”


Disclaimer: Paul Knightly is a Mars Society member and a crew member of the Mars Society’s Mars 160 mission. He attended the 2017 Mars Society Convention and also writes for Spaceflight Insider.



Paul is currently a graduate student in Space and Planetary Sciences at the University of Akransas in Fayetteville. He grew up in the Kansas City area and developed an interest in space at a young age at the start of the twin Mars Exploration Rover missions in 2003. He began his studies in aerospace engineering before switching over to geology at Wichita State University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 2013. After working as an environmental geologist for a civil engineering firm, he began his graduate studies in 2016 and is actively working towards a PhD that will focus on the surficial processes of Mars. He also participated in a 2-week simluation at The Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in 2014 and remains involved in analogue mission studies today. Paul has been interested in science outreach and communication over the years which in the past included maintaining a personal blog on space exploration from high school through his undergraduate career and in recent years he has given talks at schools and other organizations over the topics of geology and space. He is excited to bring his experience as a geologist and scientist to the Spaceflight Insider team writing primarily on space science topics.

Reader Comments

FMARS and Rovers that do not operate in a 3.711 m/s² gravity environment, successes here might be deceptive for true application on the planet Mars where it could work differently if set to Earth conditions.-Ernie Moore Jr.

Getting people to Mars would be really nice. But as things stand they cannot be returned and we start a program for supplying corpses to Mars–someone might need to think of burial
procedures–what faith will be first, markers-no markers-in suit? In a case? In a bag? treated? Au natural? Degrading in the coffin? How does that sway religion significance on Earth. Does Islamic rites bolster the warring, off-shoots? Do Christian Evangelists hold greater sway? Is being a Muslim nicer by the first rites on Mars being Islamic? Do Agnostics lord it over denominations or religious practices that no ceremony was chosen deliberately?-Ernie Moore Jr.

Taking monies away from peoples trying to eat, losing shelter…go paycheck to paycheck with less than a thousand in savings, can’t afford proper healthcare for Full fledged R&D to send people to Mars when a living structure would take decades (even a small one where people don’t immediately go crazy)-a launch site is needed to get back off of the Planet. And fuel stored on Mars to be be launched with personnel to be picked-up from Low-Mars-Orbit in a ship that can safely healthily get people to an intermediate station or straight to a rescue possible event on Earth…seems ill-timed.-Ernie Moore Jr

Allow us fifty years to organize a system of better overall living for people who are not corporations or pharmaceuticals, communications or biochem/biomed/bioweapon industries who might initially benefit and eventually trickle-down for an expense that eventually trickles-down. People-on-Mars is not really People-on-Earth geared. Motivation can be found with less immediate drains to public-access resources. People think it’s great, because it’s an ideal. Yet, that it can reduce the quality of Life for regular people with less resources than the dreamer who went into science and technologies or something- isn’t necessarily evident to everyone-so it’s an unfair question. It’s something to be done just to do. But, perhaps not this Now.-Ernie Moore Jr.

People-on-Mars-science will change as technology changes but it cannot be put off until the technology is ready to implement either. Understand schedules and inter- and intra- relationships of things–Takeoffs, windows, reentries different gravity, shifting gravities, pay load- materials (costs), building tornado proof buildings on Mars and people who are twice as old but half as young…stuffies.-Ernie Moore Jr.

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