The SEDS SpaceVision Conference


I attended the SpaceVision conference (put on by the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space – SEDS) which was held at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, Nov. 7-10, 2013. One of my roles was to represent NSS, as we were provided a display table in the lobby of the building where most of the activities occurred. The Tucson chapter (Al Anzaldua) provided a banner while Phoenix chapter member Chuck Lesher provided a nice color poster we used on the table top. Our stash of stickers, a box Ad Astra magazines from the national office, plus simple membership forms we made, were handed out at the table. About 200 color trifold membership flyers were provided to attendees in their registration bag.

NSS Regional Director Christopher Carson came and staffed the table for much of the conference. I was on one of the panels and had two other groups to represent so I could not be there continuously. He was planning to talk to the SEDS leadership about renewing the MOU between SEDS and NSS re a free first year membership in NSS. I expect a report from Chris soon. Phoenix chapter member Pat Lonchar came Saturday and staffed the table and attended the banquet (using tickets I got from Orbital Sciences).

Over 300 people attended the four day conference. I was there for parts of three days including the opening keynote presentations on Thursday evening. The event chair, John Conafay, gave a great opening speech. Jim Bell, an ASU professor who is president of the Planetary Society, introduced the keynote speaker. The keynote was given by science educator (and Planetary Society CEO) Bill Nye. He gave an entertaining, inspiring talk with a lot of emphasis on climate change and space exploration. A key message to students was to get involved (vote). The students (who probably grew up watching him on TV) treat him as somewhat of a “rock star”.

I was able to attend a number of presentations, including one by James Pura of the Space Frontier Foundation (I also attended a couple of Rick Tumlinson’s talks). Pura discussed some of the projects of the SFF. Although they are not really a membership organization, they seemed to be in a recruiting mode at the conference. They are more of a policy-making/pushing organization with a focus on space settlement and the frontier paradigm, rather than a grass-roots organization focused on near-term projects. They are decidedly “free enterprise” supporters suspicious of government directed and operated space programs.

They have a number of interesting projects. One of them picked up the old Teachers in Space effort and they are implementing that in new ways.

Pura showed the “There is Another Way” video which makes a lot of sense in some ways, but still requires a very expensive development of space infrastructure that does not currently exist. They claim to have details on the financial analysis of this concept, but on the surface it seems wildly optimistic. Personally, I would need to look at it in more detail.

If SFF can appeal to SEDS members with little to offer re local networking opportunities, why shouldn’t NSS or the Moon Society be an attractive group to join as these students leave school? I would recommend that the national level NSS leadership engage in a stronger presence at future SEDS events. But I think groups like SEDS and this sort of event demonstrates that there is a lot of passion for space amongst folks under the age of 25.

Arizona State Space Exploration Symposium – A Review

Michael Mackowski, a member of the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society, attended the one day symposium titled “The Future of Humans in Space” on 26 October 2012. He sent us these observations:

Notes from ASU Space Exploration Symposium, 10/26/12

I attended a symposium at ASU on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012. The name of the event was “Future of Humans in Space: Re-Kindling the Dream. The day-long symposium was sponsored by ASU’s Beyond Center, the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and the Center for Science and the Imagination. Here are my random notes on each speaker.

Hugh Downs (former television news personality and current chairman of the board of governors of the NSS)
He reminisced about NASA’s “glory days” when a leader like von Braun could make design decisions on the spot. Downs claimed that Werner saw the original Saturn V design with four engines, and suggested they add a fifth. There were no trade studies, no review committees, no cost-benefits trades, just a brilliant engineer with the freedom to get things done. Downs also talked about the early days of the National Space Society including how George Whitesides helped get it going.

George Whitesides (CEO and president of Virgin Galactic)
He talked about how Virgin wants to put more people into space. While he acknowledged these are suborbital flights, he avoided noting (until asked) that it is only for two minutes. He tried to make a case that these are exciting times for space development right now, with SpaceX proving their new capabilities and Virgin close to proving out the market for tourist flights into space. Just how this fits in with the theme of the symposium (“Why are we stuck in low Earth orbit?”), when Virgin doesn’t even GET to orbit was a bit puzzling to me. I’m all for rich people wanting to take their joy rides, and maybe this advances cheaper access to space, but I don’t see how suborbital tourist rides gets us closer to settlements off the Earth. Perhaps it can establish a space tourist market that can evolve into a LEO business, thus driving down launch costs. Whitesides did mention that Virgin Galactic has plans for orbital vehicles but that is a long way off.

Ed Finn (Director, Center for Science and the Imagination)
This center ( was one of the co-sponsors of this event and they had a few minutes to introduce themselves. A simple statement of their charter is to connect science and the arts. One of their efforts is to bring together scientists and engineers with science fiction writers. It’s another example of ASU president Michael Crow’s adventures in collaborations across disciplines.

Kip Hodges (Director, ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration)
He talked about collaboration between humans and robots in future space exploration from the perspective of a field geologist. His main point was that robots are unlikely to ever be as good as humans for exploration. Human cognition will always be superior to autonomous machines, but there is plenty of room for working together. The problem is latency, or the time it takes to communicate with a teleprescence on another world. Until we figure that out, robotic exploration will be slow and inefficient.

Panel Discussion: How to Leverage Our Investment in Space
This panel included Kip Hodges, Lawrence Krauss (physics professor), astronaut Andrew Thomas, and Paul Davies. I don’t think the discussion ever talked about leveraging our past investments, but the topic veered into how will we ever manage to get a manned Mars mission. All of the classic debate topics came up:
– Destinations versus Capabilities
– Moon versus Mars
– Robots versus People
– Science versus Adventure
– Settlement versus Political Prestige
– Government versus Entrepreneur
There was a consensus that the ultimate goal is human settlement on other worlds. But the path to get there is not at all clear. Astronaut Andy Thomas had a lucid view of the situation, in that space exploration is not a national imperative. Our indecisiveness is a social issue, not technical, not even political. It is still too expensive for private entities to bankroll, and the American taxpayer is in no mood to pay for more than we are doing now. Public interest is just too shallow. It won’t be performed by “commercial” firms because there is no business case for going to the Moon or Mars. The problem of radiation exposure was debated, and clearly more research is required here. Some of the panelists supported the concept of a one-way mission to Mars. These would not be suicide missions but the beginnings of permanent settlements. Others, however, said that eliminating the problems of a return to Earth stage is replaced with other, equally challenging problems of long duration survival.

Robert Zubrin (author of The Case for Mars)
Zubrin kicked off his presentation with the audacious claim that the most important issue is the world today is going to Mars. In 500 years, the first mission to Mars will be remembered more than who wins the election or how we manage our health care system. There’s some truth to that, but most people have to pay their bills first. He gave his classic talk on how to get to Mars in ten years. It is a very well thought out mission plan, and a lot of it makes sense. On the down side, Robert seems to be using the same charts and graphics from when he first came up with this concept twenty years ago. (He had grainy images from Viking to make a point about landing sites. How hard would it be to use some images from, say, the 1990s?) When it comes to destination-vs-capabilities, Zubrin is of the mind that missions drive the technology, so he wants to see a challenging mission declared. Unfortunately, this runs in the face of Andy Thomas’s observation that today’s American public is in no mood for expensive space spectaculars.

Kim Stanley Robinson (science fiction author)
Robinson’s take on space exploration was a bit more philosophical than the other speakers, as he is a writer and not a technologist. He claims that “the space project” will naturally occur as the outcome of a healthy planet and a healthy human civilization. Looking around the world right now, we’re not there. Thinking of space as a planet will help us deal with climate change. He’s not enamored with so-called “commercial” space. Space is a commons, not a playground for the rich. We need to take care of our own planet, as only Earth matters. We also have to acknowledge that we, as a species, are not “destined” for space. We are products of the Earth’s biosphere. We can attempt to take it with us, but the inter-relationships among human beings and microbiotic life (for example) is not fully understood. If we take a sterile environment with us on deep space missions, what crucial microbes will we forget?

Panel Discussion: Wilder ideas, one-way missions, warp drives, starships, etc.
This panel consisted of Sarah Walker (an astrobiologist), Ed Finn (from the Center for Science and the Imagination), Paul Davies, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Robert Zubrin. It was an entertaining discussion on such speculative topics as nuclear propulsion, space elevators, controlled fusion, magnetic monopoles, generation ships, modified human biology, etc.

There was no real conclusion or summary statement planned, but I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I spoke with Prof. Paul Davies prior to the meeting and he kindly gave me a few minutes on stage to promote local chapters of the National Space Society and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Some good contacts were made and I think there will be opportunities for collaboration between ASU and groups like NSS, the Moon Society, and AIAA.

As for the prospects for invigorating the space program, I believe the key word is patience. Government-run space exploration will only accomplish what citizens are demanding, and right now, not enough citizens are demanding a base on the moon or Mars. Privately sponsored space exploration might happen eventually, but it would have to be from a purely altruistic motivation, as there is no business case for exploration any time soon. We will need to wait for the technology to allow either of these paths to become affordable before we will make much progress towards establishing a true space faring civilization. That is the sad reality.

2012 ASU Symposium – The Future of Humans in Space

“Beyond” – The Future of Humans In Space
Image Credit: ASU

The Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science and the School of Earth and Space Exploration invite you to a one-day special symposium to explore in depth the challenge of human space exploration. Guest speakers include George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic, Robert Zubrin of Mars Direct fame, science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson and experienced astronaut Andrew Thomas, plus ASU faculty.


  • Session 1:
    10:15am – Opening remarks by Hugh Downs | George Whitesides “Opening Space to All: Virgin Galactic, commercial spaceflight and the future of space exploration”
  • Session 2:
    11:30am – Kip Hodges “Virtually there: the case for collaborative human and robotic exploration”
  • Session 3:
    12:30pm – Panel discussion #1: “Small steps, big results: how to leverage our investment in space” | Chaired by Paul Davies
  • LUNCH: 1:15 – 2:45pm – Not provided
  • Session 4:
    2:45pm – Robert Zubrin “Humans to Mars within a decade”
  • Session 5:
    3:45pm – Kim Stanley Robinson “Re-kindling the dream: to Mars and beyond…” title tentative
  • Session 6:
    5:15pm – Panel discussion #2: “Wilder ideas – one-way missions, warp drives, starships…” | Chaired by Paul Davies

The event is Friday, 26 October 2012, beginning at 10 AM until 4 PM at ASU ISTB4 Theater. ASU Map (pdf).

RSVP Here.

Additional Information

2012 Annual Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Lecture

Schoemaker “Beyond”
Image Credit: ASU

The 2012 Annual Eugene Shoemaker Memorial Lecture will be given by Andrew Thomas, a NASA astronaut and engineer. His topic is “Human Space Flight – Why Aren’t We Boldly Going?”

The event is Thursday, 25 October 2012, beginning at 7:30pm at ASU Main, NEEB Hall. ASU Map (pdf).

RSVP Here.

Dawn’s Rheasilvia Basin Only 1 Billion Years Old

Southern Hemisphere
Mineral Distribution in the Southern Hemisphere of the Protoplanet Dawn
Image Credit: NASA / JPLCalTech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

Young Craters

The newest release of data from the Dawn mission to Vesta shows a very young impact basin, the mineralogy of the asteroid, and suggests that Vesta is a protoplanet.

The image above shows the mineralogy of the Southern Hemisphere of Vesta. It covers only the inner crater and highland region of the Rheasilvia Basin, compared with the elevation and gravity contour maps previously released.

David O’Brien from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, is a Dawn mission scientists and discussed the dating of the two giant impact craters on the Southern Hemisphere of Vesta. “The large impact basins on the moon are all quite old. The fact that the largest impact on Vesta is so young was surprising.” Scientists have concluded that the Veneneia Basin is 2 billion years old, and the Rheasilvia Basin, which overlies Veneneia, was created only 1 billion years ago.

Vesta itself was created about 4.56 billion years ago. Observations by the Dawn spacecraft in the low mapping orbit of its year-long mission has revealed the layered composition that was suspected. Like the Earth, Mars, the Moon, and Mercury (see below), Vesta differentiated in a molten state, creating a crust, mantle and iron core. This qualifies Vesta as a protoplanet. But Vesta is not quite in the dwarf planet category to which the asteroid Ceres, next on Dawn’s agenda in 2015, or Pluto, belong.

Minerals and History

Minerals exposed in deep impacts show minerals related to subsurface magma. This adds to the evidence for a differentiated protoplanet.

Minerals on the surface of Vesta are rich in iron and magnesium, similar to pyroxenes. These minerals are the same as found in certain meteorites that have fallen on the Earth.

Southern Hemisphere
Mineral Distribution in the Southern Hemisphere of the Protoplanet Dawn
Image Credit: University of Tennessee

This image above shows three minerals in meteorites from Vesta.

The three meteorites were sliced and viewed through a polarizing microscope, which makes different minerals appear in different colors.

The image on the left is basaltic eucrite, from a meteorite named QUE 97053, from Antarctica. The middle image is cumulate eucrite from a meteorite found in Moore County, North Carolina. Finally, the right hand image is from a meteorite named GRA 98108, from Antarctica, and is composed of diogenite.


Eucrites are mostly regolith minerals formed near the surface of Vesta under pressure from newer, overlying deposits.

Cumulate eucrites, however, are rare types with oriented crystals. They probably solidified in magma chambers deep within Vesta’s crust.

The crystals of diogenites are primarily magnesium based orthopyroxene, and are igneous rocks formed slowly, also deep within Vesta’s crust.

As such, these minerals are indicative of the molten nature of Vesta’s early history, and its status as a protoplanet.

Below, we have five of the smaller bodies in the Solar System: Mars, Mercury, Earth’s Moon, Ceres and Vesta. They show the progression from planet to dwarf planet to protoplanet.

All of this evidence suggests that Vesta is a protoplanet, a remnant left over from the formation of the rocky planets in the inner solar system. It was not swept up by the formation of those worlds.

Five Bodies
Five Solar System Bodies: Mars, Mercury, Earth’s Moon, Ceres and Vesta
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-CalTech / UCLA

The Dawn image gallery for Vesta is here.

ASU hosts NASA astronaut Cady Coleman

Cady Coleman
Astronaut Cady Coleman at
Image Credit: ASU

Arizona State University’s College of Technology and Innovation will host NASA astronaut Cady Coleman (Colonel, USAF, RET.) on the ASU Polytechnic campus (map) on 1 March.

Coleman’s talk, “Six Months in Space onboard the International Space Station,” is a Thing on Thursday, 1 March, production and begins at 4 p.m., in the Cooley Ballroom on the ASU Polytechnic Campus. Doors will open at 3:30 p.m. RSVP by 27 February at

An Aviation Open House will follow the event, with tours available of the Del E. Webb Foundation High Altitude Chamber Lab, Ottosen Air Traffic Control Simulation Laboratory and flight simulators, from 5:15 to 6:15 pm.

Lunar Topographic Map

Progress M-13M
100 meter resolution lunar topographic map
Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / DLR / ASU

NASA has released a nearly complete topographic map of the Moon at a resolution of 100 meters (the Global Lunar DTM 100 m topographic model – GLD100)

With the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Wide Angle Camera and the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument, scientists can now accurately portray the shape of the entire moon at high resolution.

Additional information can be found at the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera center at Arizona State University.