January 16 Meeting is at ASU

The January 16 meeting of the Phoenix Chapters of the National Space Society and Moon Society will be at a different time and location than the usual. We will meet at 1:15 pm at the ISTB4 building on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University. We will get a tour of their planetary sciences exhibits followed by viewing a 3D planetarium show. Admission to the planetarium show is $7.50 at the door. If we get a dozen or so people, we’ll get the admission discounted to $5.

The exhibits include a Mars science mission control room, interactive displays on Earth and planetary science, labs for building space experiments, and an extensive meteorite collection. The planetarium show will be “The Search: Exploring Unknown Worlds” which explores discoveries and current research of exoplanets (worlds beyond our Solar System). This 60 minute presentation is a live 3-D exploration of known exoplanets in our neighborhood in space.

We recommend parking in the surface lot (Lot 44) immediately south of ISTB4. It is supposedly free on weekends (there is a machine you normally pay at, but it is not enforced on weekends and there is no gate). The Rural Road parking structure is directly easy of ISTB 4 but the automated fee system apparently is active even on weekends at $3 per hour. For more information on the building location and parking, please see:

As a heads up, we are planning a trip to Biosphere 2, north of Tucson, for our February meeting. We will do this as a combined trip with the NSS chapter from Tucson, so it will be a week earlier than normal, on Sat. Feb. 13.

Hope to see many of you at ASU next week!

Mike Mackowski
President, NSS & Moon Society Phoenix

A Gift List for the Space Advocate

Commentary by Mike Mackowski

Bill Nye Follow Up

I attended Bill Nye’s presentation to a full house (3000 people, mostly students) at ASU’s Gammage Auditorium on December 7. His talk hit a lot of topics, and was mostly a motivational speech to support science topics, especially space exploration and climate change research. He did promote membership in the Planetary Society, which is fine, but of course I also encourage folks to join NSS, which has an active local branch. It’s always more enjoyable to do grass-roots advocacy when you have other like-minded people around you.

Nye did not make a big deal out of his book, so the talk wasn’t what you might expect from a book tour. Nor was he trying to shame the audience into taking a more active role in promoting science, instead, he was primarily telling the story of his own personal journey in engineering and the media and science in our culture. Overall I think he did a great job of inspiring the students in the audience to keep working hard towards their goals in the sciences, and there was nothing wrong with that.

An Early Christmas Present for NASA

In the news today (Dec. 16) was word that Congress’ omnibus budget bill, which is expected to pass both houses and be signed by President Obama, has a nearly 7.5% increase in funding for NASA for FY2016 versus the prior year. Apparently this was largely the result of the October budget compromise where some of the sequestration limits were lifted which resulted in additional funding available for agencies like NASA. This enabled all their big programs to get the funds NASA requested to maintain planned programs, and sometimes more. This included SLS, Commercial Crew, and planetary exploration. In other words, everybody won. In past years, it seemed that one or more of those three pieces had to be cut to feed one of the others. This is good news all around as it will keep some programs on track (Commercial Crew) and enhance others (like adding a lander to a Europa mission).

My understanding is the main reason for this increase was that more money was available overall. I don’t know what effect, if any, lobbying or citizen advocacy had on this increase. It would be nice to think that groups like NSS or the Planetary Society could take some credit for this, but I think bigger forces were the main driver. It’s good news no matter what the reason. See this article and this article for more details.

Speaking of Like Minded People

Don’t forget that my wife (Maura) and I are hosting a Christmas party this Saturday, December 19, at our house in Gilbert. The spaced-out holiday fun starts at 7:30 pm so send me an RSVP if you can attend. Feel free to bring a drink or snack to share.

Are You a Space Advocate or Just an Enthusiast?

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

Bill Nye is giving a talk tonight in Phoenix (okay, really he’ll be in Tempe) and I plan to be there. I am looking forward to hearing what he has to say. Most of you know that Nye is CEO of The Planetary Society, one of the largest space exploration societies in existence.

That prompted me to write this commentary about the difference between a “space enthusiast” and a “space advocate” or perhaps more precisely, a “space activist”. I’m a charter member of The Planetary Society (TPS), and I sense that this group has been successful (in terms of membership numbers) because of its primary goal to provide its members the latest news regarding planetary exploration. They do a very good job at that. TPS also encourages its members to contact their government representatives about their thoughts on space exploration, but other than some focused visits to congressional offices in Washington DC, TPS is limited in what it can do when it comes to lobbying or actively promoting legislation or specific NASA program funding. This is probably because their tax status (501(c)3).

TPS does not have a local chapter system, thus they do not stress local, grass roots advocacy activities. This is in contrast with an organization like the National Space Society (NSS), which has a local chapter structure plus a DC-focused arm, including involvement with umbrella groups like the Space Exploration Alliance (SEA) and the Alliance for Space Development. TPS is also involved with SEA, to be clear. While NSS is also a 501(c)3 organization, their political action activities are governed by a 501(h) status which allows for limited lobbying. On the other hand, TPS is more involved in actual hardware programs than NSS. TPS sponsored a solar sail experiment and is working on a follow-on, for example.

I like the fact that TPS (and NSS) encourages their members to promote space science and exploration. But I get a sense that most of their members are just there for the view as passive observers. They enjoy the pretty pictures of planets and are excited at every new discovery and want to share that with their friends and family. There’s nothing wrong with that. I see a similar preponderance of passive observers in a number of on-line communities. It reflects the broad but shallow support the general public has for space exploration. There seem to be a lot of people who love to watch rocket launches, meet astronauts, collect astronaut autographs, read about space exploration, visit museums, and talk about the future of space exploration. I call these folks “enthusiasts”. But enthusiasts alone will not conquer the solar system.

TPS laments the government’s lack of support for planetary science missions. NSS laments the slow progress in human space exploration (congressional bickering over commercial space programs, controversy over SLS, vague plans post-ISS, etc.). Enthusiasts won’t change this situation. What we need are space advocates and activists. These are people willing to talk to not just Congress but the public. I’ve always supported the concept that the government responds to their constituency. If voters don’t demand a more dynamic space program, they won’t get it. One job that real space advocates can do is to inform the general public about the importance of a strong program of space exploration and development. This can create a multiplying effect that increases the number of people contacting their government representatives, or helping at their local school’s STEM program to create the next generation of rocket engineers and planetary scientists.

This situation of a deficit of space activists is one reason I am interested in what message Bill Nye is going to send tonight. Will he simply promote his latest book, or will he inspire the “enthusiasts” in the audience to get out of their comfort zone and become true “advocates” for space?


It’s nice to see Blue Origin’s successful test flight of their New Shepard vehicle on Nov. 23. This is an important milestone for that company but space enthusiasts need to temper their excitement.

First, the McDonnell Douglas DC-X flew a similar profile in the early 1990s. The difference was that New Shepard is bigger and is flying much higher with a separate payload (crew) module. Some folks are commenting that this is a sign that SpaceX has some real competition now. They need to realize that SpaceX is trying to land a larger rocket coming back from a much higher velocity. So what Blue Origin did this week is more ambitious than the DC-X but not quite as difficult as what SpaceX is trying to do with the Falcon 9 rocket.

What I don’t get is all the fan competitiveness. Why would someone interested in space exploration be a “fan” of one private company to the detriment of another? Friendly competition is fine but aren’t we all interested in the same outcome, which is reduced cost to orbit? I don’t care who gets us there: NASA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Orbital ATK, Boeing, Lockheed Martin. We should cheer them all on.

While an individual team may have scored this latest touchdown, the points count for all of us.

Michael Mackowski


Nov. 21 Meeting will Feature Al Anzaldua

Our next meeting will be at the usual place and time (11 am at the Humanist Center in Tempe) and will feature Al Anzaldua. Al is very active in the Tucson club and is currently the regional director for NSS for the southwest region that includes Arizona. Al will talk about the challenge of orbital debris and how it threatens not only today’s valuable space resources, but how it could affect mega-structures like solar power satellites and space settlements. He will also bring us up to speed on the latest buzz from the national offices of NSS.

See you Saturday!

Mike Mackowski

NSS Phoenix chapter president

NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge

We had an interesting presentation at the October meeting from Dennis Bonilla on the Asteroid Grand Challenge. Here are some follow-up links.

NASA announces $20,000 in prizes to develop videos to engage and excite the public about asteroid detection. In the first phase of the video challenge the public has 4 chances to win $250 for submitting ideas for videos:


Asteroid Grand Challenge Website:


Asteroid Grand Challenge Emailer Sign-Up:


Adventures in Space Advocacy

Phoenix chapter president Michael Mackowski will be presenter at the Chandler Science Cafe, next Wednesday, November 4, 2015, 7pm, at Gangplank, 260 S. Arizona Ave., Chandler, AZ 85225.

The Science Café celebrates the new book, Adventures in Space Advocacy, a memoir by Michael Mackowski that tells the story of his involvement in grass roots advocacy for a more robust American space program.

13. 1992 Home Show

Mike at a 1992 outreach event in St. Louis

Mike is an aerospace engineer and a longtime member of the National Space Society (NSS), the Planetary Society, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). He has worked to establish collaborative efforts among the local NSS, AIAA, etc. chapters on activities such as Yuri’s Night and SpaceUp Phoenix. He has received several awards from AIAA for public policy and STEM outreach activities.

“I hope is that historians of the space movement will find this to be an interesting first-hand account of grass-roots efforts to promote space exploration to the public,” Mackowski said. “Similarly, current space activists can learn from these examples of how to execute large pro-space events.”

The book is now available via Amazon in print and digital and will be available at science cafe: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00WDMVWDW


Science Cafés are live—and lively—events that take place in casual settings, are open to everyone, and feature an engaging conversation with a scientist about a particular topic. Chandler Science Cafe, first Wednesday of the month, 7pm, at Gangplank Chandler is presented in association with the Arizona SciTech Festival and Gangplank Labs Initiative.


Event website: