Yuri’s Night in Phoenix

The Phoenix, Arizona space advocacy societies held a joint Yuri’s Night event on Sat. April 12, 2014 on the campus of Arizona State University (ASU). The event was hosted by the ASU chapter of the Student for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). Besides SEDS members, attendees included members of the local NSS and Moon Society chapters as well as others brought in via the MeetUp social network. There were over 30 people in attendance. The local AIAA Section provided financial support for the refreshments.

The evening started off with pizza, wings, and soft drinks set up in a well-equipped conference room in the space science building. A Mars landing video game kept folks entertained, and foam rockets that Mike Mackowski brought from Orbital Sciences proved to be a hit, as missile battles ensued all across the room. There was much socializing and networking amonst the students, educators, and professionals in attendance. To cap it off, there was a showing of the original Star Wars movie (episode 4, if you must) in the building’s main auditorium.

This was a great evening of celebrating Earth’s first venture into manned spaceflight.

Yuri’s Night 2014


On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to orbit the Earth. To celebrate the anniversary of this milestone in space exploration, the Phoenix aerospace community is having a Yuri’s Night event on Saturday, April 12, 2014. This will be a fun evening of entertainment, food, and and socializing.

For the past few years, the Phoenix chapters of the National Space Society and the Moon Society have held a Yuri’s Night event in conjunction with the Space Access conference. That conference is not occuring this year, so we are all joining up with the YN event hosted by the ASU chapter of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). The event will be free and open to everyone. No advanced registration is required. You can sign up on the event’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/events/1407954946126455/) if you want.

The fun starts at 7 pm and will be held at the ISTB-4 building on the east side of the campus. Parking is available at the surface lot immediately south of the building or the Rural Road parking garage just east of ISTB-4. Parking is generally free on weekends in these lots.

This primary sponsor of this event is the ASU chapter of SEDs, with with additional support provided by the Phoenix Section of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the local chapters of the National Space Society and the Moon Society.

For more info on the international YN movement, see http://yurisnight.net


A 2021 Mars Expedition Sounds Exciting but Does It Make Sense?

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

About a year ago, Dennis Tito formed an foundation, Inspiration Mars, whose goal was to send a married couple on a fly-by space mission to Mars and back. This would have to be launched in 2018 to take advantage of the relative alignments of the Earth and Mars. There are obvious challenges to overcome to make this successful, notably funding and the lack of demonstrated life support systems that can last 500 days with no resupply. A few months ago, Tito testified before Congress, noting that he would need the help of NASA to pull off this mission, specifically calling out the need for a heavy launch vehicle like the Space Launch System (SLS), which is now in development.

Now a some members of Congress (specifically Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee) is proposing a very similar mission but sponsored by NASA. Note that the idea did not originate with NASA.  This would be launched in 2021 and takes advantage of a Venus fly-by for a gravity assist, and results in a mission only a month or so longer than the 2018 plan by Inspiration Mars. It would be the second launch of the SLS and the inaugural flight of the Orion deep-space vehicle. This plan, as well as the Inspiration Mars plan, requires a habitat module which does not exist today, although could be based on American or Russian modules used on the International Space Station. The 2021 launch date provides a bit more realistic schedule to develop some of the missing pieces for such an audacious mission compared to the Inspiration Mars plan.

But does this 2021 plan make any sense?  Does it lead to the permanent settlement of space, or is it part of a long term strategy of human exploration of deep space, or will it leave us with any new capabilities that could be used to develop lunar resources or advance the date of putting people on the surface of Mars? My initial thought is no, it does none of these very well, but there may still be a reason to embrace it (which I’ll get to in a bit).

For establishing a solid foothold on the Moon, we will need landers and equipment to process the local regolith to extract resources. Any deep space mission, be it to the Moon, an asteroid, or Mars, needs to be part of a long term strategic plan to establish mankind’s permanent presence on other solar system bodies. This mission doesn’t address those needs. For putting a crew on the surface of Mars, we need landers (again) and long-lived life support equipment. Both the new proposal and the Inspiration Mars concept will need a reliable closed life support system, so either of these would be a step in that direction. Ideally, one would like to develop that technology and test it in low Earth orbit or in cislunar space, where a rescue or recovery would be possible should something go wrong. I have not seen a detailed development plan for these missions, so perhaps they are including that. But if that is the case, what value added is the cost of this fly-by mission provide you since you already have developed one of the technologies needed for a Mars landing mission? This is where we get to the “other” reason this mission may make sense.

Is a Venus and Mars human fly-by mission valuable from a gee-whiz perspective that might just incite an increased demand for missions that would actually lead to permanent settlements? We have been looking for something for the public to get excited about. Could this be it? The Inspiration Mars folks admitted this from the start, so is Congress picking up on that approach?  Or are they just looking for an entertaining space spectacular (it might be a great television reality series) to justify the existence of their giant SLS rocket?

While a fly-by mission with a crew generates no science results that a robotic probe couldn’t provide at a much lower cost, and doesn’t really put footprints on Mars, and leaves no real infrastructure for future long-term development, the impact of actually going to Mars may generate intangible benefits that are difficult to imagine at this time.

Such a mission would indeed be a real interplanetary expedition. There is something to be said for that. It may not have any great scientific justification, but it could have a big impact on society at a more fundamental level. Is this the “statement” mission that underscores (regains, for some) America’s leadership in space that a lot of people have been calling for?

This doesn’t have to be a terribly expensive mission. The SLS is happening anyway. This may be a relatively cheap way to justify the expensive SLS development. The hab module shouldn’t be all that expensive, relatively speaking. It would be similar to ISS modules. And we’ve been working on CLLSS for a long time. The technology to pull off this mission isn’t that far off, but certainly there is a lot of development required. At this early stage, however, making a believable cost-benefits trade study is difficult.

Are there better ways to spend what little money NASA has at their disposal? Wouldn’t investing in a large lunar lander be a more logical next step? That would require a long term strategy for human planetary exploration, which we still don’t have. But remember, the benefits of this proposal are not primarily driven by logic. If it encourages some political commitment to a long term space program, is that really so bad?

It’s Time to Step Up

Commentary by Michael Mackowski, 2/9/14

It’s time to step up and get involved.

Many of you may know that besides leading the Phoenix chapters of NSS and TMS, I am also very involved in the local Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a professional society for aerospace engineers. One of the areas I focus on is outreach to K-12 schools and educators. In our efforts to reach out to area schools, we are starting to get a lot of requests to send engineers to schools and related events like science fairs. The problem is that we do not have enough volunteers to meet all of these requests.

Some of the requests are unique to some of the programs the group has developed. An example is a cardboard wind tunnel we use to demonstrate basic concept in aerodynamics. One motive behind that demo is that it is something that can be built with a very low budget. This wind tunnel is stored in my garage and only a couple of our members are familiar enough with it to show it off.

But many other requests can be met by anyone with knowledge of science and technology, and that means you, my friends in the National Space Society and the Moon Society. Note that a lot of companies do not give employees time off to do volunteer work, which is shortsighted and unfortunate. So we, as a community of people who recognize the importance of science and technology to our society, must work together to inspire young people to pursue careers in those fields.

If you are at all interested in learning more details about some of these volunteer opportunities, please get in touch with me.

Another area that needs some new ideas and participation is one a bit more specific to our club, and that is Yuri’s Night (YN).

In the past few years, we’ve hooked on to a ready audience by having a YN social in conjunction with the Space Access conference that has been held in April for many years here in the Phoenix area. Unfortunately, Henry Vanderbilt will not be having the conference this year. With that, and inspired by the great job the ASU SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space) did hosting the SpaceVision conference last fall, I approached them about taking the lead on YN this year. It turned out that most of their members will be unavailable that weekend. Some will be in Houston working on a microgravity experiment or in Tucson at a conference.

In a way that’s a good thing – we are wide open on what we can do for Yuri’s Night. So I need ideas, and people who are willing to carry them out.

Please try to attend this Saturday’s meeting. Dr. Dave Williams of ASU will be talking about roving about the solar system. There will also be door prizes. And maybe we can find some folks willing to step up.

Mike Mackowski

January Meeting Report

By Mike Mackowski

We had about ten attendees at the January 18th meeting which featured Al Anzaldua, the president of the Tucson chapter. Al has done a lot of research on future scenarios for utilizing the Moon’s resources for supporting manned outposts and for supplying propellant for various deep space and cis-lunar activities. He gave a very thorough presentation on this topic, focusing on how to generate a balance between manned and robotic vehicles. Latency, or the time delay between the operator and tele-operated machine, is a critical factor in this balance. For example, operating machines on the lunar surface remotely from Earth’s surface has an unacceptably long delay. If the remote operators were in a high lunar orbit, or perhaps the Earth-Moon L1 point, the latency is much less of a problem.

Pat Lonchar, our chapter treasurer, made a video recording of the presentation and it is posted at the links in the post below (thanks Chuck!).

After the meeting, several members attended a planning meeting at a nearby restaurant. There, chapter president Mike Mackowski led a discussion of future meeting topics, possible field trips, social functions, and other outreach opportunities.  Look for a follow up report here soon.

NSS Phoenix – 2013 Year in Review

The year 2013 was a good year for the Phoenix Chapter of the National Space Society. It started off on a tragic note, however, with the death of David Fischer on January 19. David was the chapter vice president at the time and was instrumental in solidifying chapter activities in the last few years, particularly by setting up the WordPress blog, arranging our meeting place, and hosting several holiday parties. He will be missed for his friendship, as well as for his passion for space exploration and dedication to the club.

After David’s passing, the core of the group got together in February for a planning meeting and new set of officers was elected for a two year term:

  • President – Michael Mackowski
  • Vice President – Samantha Thompson
  • Treasurer – Patrick Lonchar
  • Secretary – Michael Clark

Other positions are:

  • Chapter President Emeritus / At-Large Director:  Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto
  • Media and Publicity Manager – Chuck Lesher

Chuck (with Mackowski’s help) did a major redesign of the website (WordPress blog) and hooked us up to the MeetUp on-line social network. This service posts our meetings to people who have expressed an interest in science and space exploration. This exposure led to increased meeting attendance and new members. We formalized our arrangements with the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix (HSGP) to use their meeting hall for NSS meetings, and the exposure to that group also brought in new members. We also worked hard to have regular meetings with interesting speakers and programs. The summary of monthly events follows.

  • 1/19 at HSGP with Dr. Pete Swan talking about space elevators.
  • 2/16 at HSGP to report on new officers and to discuss future directions for the club.
  • 3/16 at HSGP – General club policy and planning meeting.
  • 4/12 – Yuri’s Night social at Space Access Conference
  • 4/20 – Planned trip to Biosphere 2 was cancelled due to lack of interest
  • 5/18 at HSGP – Watched YouTube video of ASU Storytelling of Science seminar featuring Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Brian Greene.
  • 6/22 at HSGP – ASU Lunabotics club presentation and robot demo.
  • 7/20 at HSGP – with ASU LRO researcher Dr. Sam Lawrence.
  • August meeting cancelled due to multiple club members vacation schedules.
  • 9/7 planning meeting at Starbucks in Tempe
  • 9/21 at HSGP – Mackowski gave his Road to Mars talk and did a live interview on the Ch. 15 6 am newscast.
  • 10/12 at HSGP – Chuck Lesher gave an update on space-based solar power.
  • 10/26 – Field trip to northern Arizona lava tube cave with AIAA members.
  • 11/8 at ASU – NSS had a display table at SEDS SpaceVision national conference where Mackowski gave a talk at the commercial space panel.
  • 11/16 at HSGP – Henry Vanderbilt gave an update on the NewSpace industry and Commercial Space.
  • 12/4 – Mackowski gave a talk on space activism to SEDS club monthly meeting at ASU.
  • December – Winter Holiday party not scheduled due to minimal interest.

Some events were not as successful as others. During planning meetings, there seemed to be a lot of interest in field trips. So we planned trips to Biosphere 2 and to a lava cave near Flagstaff. The Biosphere trip was cancelled at the last minute due to lack of interest, and the lava tube trip was pulled off in conjunction with the local AIAA section but only one NSS member attended. So we will learn from that.

We had several good outreach and publicity opportunities that promoted the local chapter. These included our presence at the Space Access Conference with our Yuri’s Night party, representation at planning meetings for the Arizona Science and Technology Festival, Mackowski’s appearance on the Sept. 21 Channel 15 newscast, involvement with SEDS at the national and local (ASU) level, and a meeting with Casey Drier, the Director of Advocacy and blogger for The Planetary Society, were he and Mackowski discussed the current state of space interest groups.

I think it was a pretty good year where the group established a routine of meetings, outreach, and communications (emails, blogging). Now we need more members to step up and continue this trend into the new year. We’d like to see new ideas and fresh (and younger!) faces picking up leadership roles, posting opinions, and organizing special events. Thanks for your support during 2013 and I hope to see you at the January meeting.

Mike Mackowski

Phoenix Chapter President:  The Moon Society, National Space Society