“The Martian”

An Informal Movie Outing
A number of chapter members thought it would be fun to go see this new movie as a group. So we are planning to catch the 7:10 pm showing at the Harkins Theater (Cine Capri) at Tempe Marketplace on Saturday October 3. We are inviting members of the local AIAA Section to this as well. Afterwards we can go out for refreshments at one of the many establishments at the Marketplace.

No RSVP is needed, just show up and look for a familiar face! Also please buy your own tickets as this is a very informal arrangement!


Mike Mackowski

September 19 Meeting at Chuck Lesher’s place

The September meeting of the Phoenix Chapters of the National Space Society and the Moon Society will be next Saturday, Sept. 19 at 11 am. It will NOT be at our usual location but instead will be a social at Chuck Lesher’s home in Chandler.

This will be a lunch and planning meeting at Chuck’s place at 1982 N Iowa Street, Chandler, AZ (south of Warner between Alma School and Arizona Ave). Chuck will provide burgers and fixings and a cool place to talk about space and what we want to do over the next year or so. Show up with ideas and leave with a plan. This is open to all NSS members or anybody who wants to be a member. New NSS Membership is only $20 for the year and $5 for the local club dues. We welcome new people. Get involved!


Spaced Out Summer

It’s been a quiet summer in the world of space exploration, at least as far as local activities. We did have the Pluto encounter in early July, and many of our local NSS chapter members attended the event at ASU on July 14. But since then, it’s been quiet as we wait for more images from New Horizons (expected in September), and we went and skipped our August meeting.

Chuck Lesher is going to host the September meeting at his house in Chandler (details to come soon) at our usual lunch-time schedule. We also are considering an outing in early October to go see “The Martian” movie as a group. Or maybe two groups, one on either end of town. I’m looking for ideas on how to pull this off. It is likely to be Sat. Oct. 3, as the Mesa Museum of Natural History has a space-themed event planned for the evening of Oct. 2, and I think we’ll be participating in that one way or another.

I have a nibble on a speaker for Oct. 17, but beyond that I am running out of ideas. What do folks want to hear about at our meetings? More new stuff? History stuff? Current stuff? Contact me at my gmail account (michael dot mackowski at gmail).


Mike Mackowski



It’s Time for Pluto

In consideration of the historic exploration of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft, the Phoenix Chapter of NSS (and the Moon Society) will have the July meeting on Tuesday, July 14 at Arizona State University instead of the usual third Saturday schedule. ASU will be hosting public events for the close encounter with Pluto late in the afternoon of July 14 so we will join them and make it a Pluto Palooza!

The overall encounter and data download schedule is below. Note that due to spacecraft orientation constraints, we won’t be getting the best photos back until Wednesday and later. In fact, it will take over a year to download all of the high resolution data that New Horizons is collecting. But Tuesday is the encounter day, and considering the historic nature of this (the last time we will see the surface of one of the “classical” planets for the first time) we will have an event on July 14.

Basically the events at ASU start around 4 pm and will wrap up by around 7 pm. We will have handouts (stickers, data cards, etc) from NASA and Johns Hopkins University so it should be a lot of fun! I hope to see many of you there.

Mike Mackowski

President, Phoenix Chapter National Space Society

New Horizons event time line

ASU Pluto Palooza events (all at ISTB4 and Marston Exploration Theater)

Ariz Time (MST=PDT) Event Comment
Monday July 13
8:00 am NASA TV briefing on mission status
9:24 am Complete Fail Safe D LORRI and MVIC image download 170 pixels across Pluto
8:15 pm Complete download best pre-encounter LORRI image.Last image download until Wednesday morning. 630 pixels across Pluto
Tuesday July 14
4:30 am NASA TV briefing
4:50 am Closest approach
3:30 pm Meet ‘n Greet in ISTB4 lobby gallery
4:00 pm Dave Williams presentation on Dawn at Ceres and Pluto preview
5:00 pm NASA TV briefing: Phone Home, from APL mission control Watch at ASU
6:02 pm Expected time of arrival of “Phone Home” signal
6:15 pm Steve Desch presentation on Pluto and Charon
Wednesday July 15
2:30 am Begin 90 minute download of close up images
12:25 pm Complete download of selected best images
TBD NASA TV briefing with release of images

It’s Pluto Time

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

Over the next few weeks the curtains will be pulled back on the deepest, darkest secrets of the Solar System, and Pluto will be revealed. The New Horizons spacecraft has been traveling for almost ten years on a journey to explore this small dwarf planet. With this mission, humankind will have completed the initial reconnaissance of all of the classical planets. In other words, the upcoming fly by of Pluto will be the last time we will see the details of one of these planetary bodies for the first time.

Think about the significance of this. This initial exploration of the solar system has taken over fifty years, from the Mariner 2 Venus fly by in 1962 and the first close-up images of Mars by Mariner 4 in 1964. Some of us who were born at the right time have seen all of these unveilings. Each new space probe changed our view of the planets from fuzzy blobs in telescopes to crater and mountain covered worlds in their own right. As the spacecraft and instruments got more sophisticated, more and more details and wonders were revealed. These achievements surprised us with craters on Mars, volcanoes on Jupiter’s moons, geysers on a moon of Saturn, rings around Uranus, and on and on.

But poor Pluto lies at the edge of the solar system, demoted by some from real planet-hood to merely a “dwarf” chunk of rock and ice. It took over twenty-five years from the initial proposals for a Pluto mission to the July 14 close encounter. What will the New Horizons probe tell us in the coming weeks?

I think that the true ignificance of the New Horizons mission is not what will be revealed about what is on the surface of Pluto, but what it tells us about ourselves. We will never again have a first encounter with a historical planetary body. This means we have sent our robot emissaries to all the major bodies in the Sun’s family. That is an incredibly historic and momentous achievement. This event is more about what humanity is capable of doing than about how many craters are on Pluto. This is an achievement for humanity, for all of the people of Planet Earth, not just for the scientists and engineers. In these times when there is so much news about death and hatred, it can remind us that we are one people all living together on one small planet in a very large universe. Perhaps it can inspire us to look beyond our petty differences and ancient prejudices and consider ourselves as one humanity, joined by our common bond to this fragile planet we call home. Perhaps by conceiving the heavens, we can flourish on Earth.


The Awesome and the Tedious

Commentary by Mike Mackowski

There are some cool things going on in space exploration, and these are developments that involve true exploration. There are also a lot of things going on behind the scenes regarding how the National Space Society operates, and these can get rather tedious.

First, the awesome stuff. We are getting our first close look at two very interesting solar system bodies, Pluto and Ceres (not to mention Pluto’s several moons). Ceres, with its mysterious bright spots, get more and more intriguing as the images continue to get better. As the New Horizons spacecraft approaches Pluto, we are finally starting to see the dim planet’s personality take shape. The next couple of months will be fun and exciting.

There have also been some interesting developments in experimental space technology. The privately funded LightSail, a cubesat sponsored by the Planetary Society, successfully deployed a solar sail in low Earth orbit in early June. This technology has the potential for low cost, deep space missions with this new capability to move around the solar system. There are constraints, certainly (you don’t get anywhere fast, and it doesn’t work well in the darker deep reaches of space), but it is great progress. It is also refreshing to see success by a non-government sponsor of such technology.

Another technology demonstrator, NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), did not fare so well. This inflatable heat shield and high speed aerobrake was tested again near Hawai’i, but the supersonic parachute disintegrated shortly after deployment. They had similar issues on a previous flight, and despite what might be considered a failure, this is how you learn. By observing a failure, you understand the limits of the design, and can now go back and fix it.

These demos are great examples of how we are advancing the technology that will expand humanity into the solar system. But on the policy level, I don’t think we are making as much progress. I think most people can agree on the goal of expanding mankind into space, but not on the path to get there. You have factions supporting SLS or commercial space, NewSpace versus traditional aerospace firms, etc. This week I was observing an email debate between lunar railguns versus lunar space elevators. In my view, that is a moot argument (especially for a forum on chapter issues), since neither one is going to happen any time soon. There was also a debate on how NSS should deal with the partisan bickering in Congress over NASA’s budget. I doubt that NSS has any influence over the eventual outcome, but we sure wasted a lot of energy arguing about it on teleconferences and emails.

From my perspective as the local leader of the Phoenix Chapter of NSS, I am looking for ideas and resources from my NSS national leadership on how to sponsor effective local events, how to recruit more members, etc. While lunar elevators versus railgun launchers may be an interesting academic discussion, that is not helping me figure our how to convert some new young space enthusiasts into future leaders of NSS at the local or national level. I fear that if these young candidate leaders are exposed to the constant internal bickering, pointless debates, and ineffective meeting management that is so typical of NSS, they will want nothing to do with the group on any level. As an organization, NSS needs to grow up and become more professional in how they set policy, support local chapters, and establish their public image. The Society’s tedious tendencies in these areas may be the very reason there are so few younger people willing or interested in becoming more active and involved.