Highlights from 20th Annual International Mars Society Convention
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.