Field Trip to Lava Tube Cave near Flagstaff on Oct. 26

As most of you may know, lava tubes exist on the Moon and Mars (and Arizona!) and have been proposed as habitat locations for future off planet settlements. To get an idea of what these lava tube caves look like, the Phoenix chapters of the Moon Society and NSS are joining up with the local chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA – an engineering society) for a field trip to the cave near Flagstaff.

Please sign up at the link so they can get a sense of how many people are coming.  There is also a flyer attached. Here is the info:
Saturday, October 26th, 2013
7:00 AM (Meet at Park N Ride)
10:00 AM (Lava Tour)
Please join for a family friendly hike, 1.5 miles roundtrip through the lava tube in Flagstaff, AZ. These tubes symbolize lunar lava tubes. Explore the depths of Northern Arizona’s volcanic past with an underground hike.  This very unusual hike will take you down a 700,000 year old lava tube discovered by lumbermen around 1915.


Lunar lava tubes are sub-surface tunnels on the Moon that are believed to have formed during basaltic lava flows.  When the surface of a lava tube cools, it forms a hardened lid that contains the ongoing lava flow beneath the surface in a conduit-shaped passage. Once the flow of lava diminishes, the tunnel may become drained, forming a hollow void.  Lunar lava tubes may potentially serve a role as enclosures for manned habitats. These natural tunnels provide protection from cosmic ray radiation,meteorites, micrometeorites, and other impacts. They are shielded from the variations in temperature at the lunar surface, which would provide a stable environment for inhabitants.

Location: About 14 miles north of Flagstaff on paved highways and graveled Forest Roads.
Access: Drive 9 miles north of Flag
staff on US 180 and turn west (left) on FR 245 (at milepost 230). Continue 3 miles to FR171 and turn south 1 mile to where FR 171B turns left a short distance to Lava River Cave.

Please remember to bring flashlight, closed hard-soles shoes, water, warm clothes (cave can by 35-45 degrees year round). If you want to carpool we can meet at the Happy Valley Park-and-Ride (24725 N. 29th Ave) at 7:00 AM

This will just give us an idea of how many people will be attending.
Mike Mackowski

SpaceFest V

Autograph seekers line up for famous astronauts at the 2013 Spacefest in Tucson.

Autograph seekers line up for famous astronauts at the 2013 Spacefest in Tucson.

With the work being a bit less hectic, I’ve been able to take some time off to attend a couple of space-related events in Arizona. I recently commented on the Space Access Conference. Over the Memorial Day weekend I was on a panel at Spacefest V in Tucson.
Spacefest is a unique event, combining space science, astronaut autographs, space art, and collectibles. It offers a gathering of Apollo astronauts where (for a fee) you can get an autograph of a Moon walker (Alan Bean, Gene Cernan, Dave Scott, etc.). There are two tracks of presentations, most focusing on recent developments in planetary exploration (Carolyn Porco, Richard Cook [Curiosity], Marc Rayman, Dan Durda, etc.) as well as an assortment of journalists and writers (Brian, Cox, Andrew Chaikin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Colin Burgess, Leonard David, Phil Plait, Emily Lackdawalla, etc.). Vendors offer art prints (and some originals), books, meteorites, minerals, and spacecraft models.

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The 2013 Space Access Conference

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

Part One – The Conference

Space Access 2013I finally had the opportunity to attend the Space Access Conference, an event run by Henry Vanderbilt, a long-time space advocate from Phoenix. The conference’s focus is on “New Space” launch vehicle developers and the burgeoning suborbital market. I had been aware of this conference for some time, and despite that it is held in my home town, the conference content and my personal or business interests never overlapped sufficiently to motivate me to take time off work and attend. This year, things were quiet at work and I decided to see what it was all about.

The conference ran for three days (April 11-13) and I attended most of the first two. The nice thing about the program is that Henry limits it to a single thread so you don’t have to choose between parallel sessions. There was an interesting mix of speakers. Most were related to launch vehicles but there was also a good mix of astronomy (asteroids), history (DC-X), and far term concepts (space settlements).

The rocketry presentations were on varied levels. Some were from the more well-known companies like XCOR, while quite a few were folks doing this as a hobby or as students, some barely a step above high-powered hobbyist rocketry.

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The Celestial Shooting Gallery

by Michael Mackowski

APTOPIX Russia Meteorite

Outer space may literally be mostly empty space, but our solar system is full of large and small chunks of rocks. A few days ago, a couple of these rocks made a close pass to our home planet. One object, called asteroid DA14, was large enough to be detected about a year ago. It came within 17,200 miles of the Earth’s surface, within the ring of geostationary communications satellites we all rely on. There was enough information on this object to know in advance that it would come close, but miss us. Still, this asteroid was the closest large object to pass by the Earth that we saw ahead of time.

Meanwhile a smaller object, perhaps the size of a school bus, whizzed over Russia, and when it exploded several miles above the ground, the shock wave was strong enough to smash windows over a large area, injuring over a thousand people from flying glass. This object was too small to be detected in advance, at least with the technology we are using today.

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Digging Space

Commentary by Mike Mackowski


From the classic days of space science fiction to the projections of large scale operations in space from the 1960s and 70s, utilization of space resources has always been envisioned as a major part of large scale space operations. Now in the early 21st Century we finally have at least two serious companies formed whose goal is to mine asteroids.  Planetary Resources announced their plans in 2012 while this January we heard about Deep Space Industries. This is a very exciting prospect for any advocate of expanded human presence in space. Continue reading

Progress for Space Tourism

New Mexico Governor Signs Spaceport Liability Legislation Into Law

Spaceport America

The AP (4/3, Clausing) reports, “Gov. Susana Martinez on Tuesday signed into law liability-waiving legislation aimed at saving the state’s nearly quarter-billion-dollar investment in a futuristic spaceport and retaining its anchor tenant, British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.”

Martinez said the new law shows the state is “not only reaffirming the major commitment New Mexicans have made to Spaceport America but we now have an even stronger opportunity to grow the number of commercial space jobs at the spaceport and across our state. This legislation will prevent lawsuit abuse and make it easier for businesses related to the space travel industry to thrive and succeed right here in New Mexico.”  The article notes that previously Virgin Galactic had protested its rent payments and had threatened to leave if the law was not passed.  In a statement yesterday, Virgin Galactic said it was always committed to the project but now more needs to be done to bring other customers to the spaceport.

New Survey on Government Spending May Actually have Good News for Space Advocates

Commentary by Michael Mackowski


The results of a survey on government spending were released recently and reported in an Associated Press article on March 8. The General Social Survey asked people whether they believe government spending in specific categories is “too much,” “too little” or “about right.” The survey was performed by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago with principal funding from the National Science Foundation. Using an index based on the difference between the “too much” and “too little” responses, the public’s view on various categories were graded between plus and minus 100, where high values mean more funds should be provided, while negative values indicated the public thinks too much is already being spent in that area.

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Driving Satellites

Commentary by Mike Mackowski


I have the privilege of working in the space industry as a power subsystem engineer for Orbital Sciences in Gilbert, Arizona. On February 11, 2013 the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (aka Landsat 8) spacecraft was launched and I was at the NASA Goddard mission operations center monitoring performance of this satellite that Orbital built for NASA and the US Geological Survey.

There is a lot more to getting a satellite launched and working than just bolting it to a rocket and flinging it loose. Once the satellite is in orbit, it’s not ready to use on the first day. Engineers and operators need to slowly and carefully activate and test out all of the equipment and operating modes. Spacecraft are generally launched in mode with only a few components operating, the minimum needed to maintain proper pointing and communication with the ground. This is done in case of any problems with the rocket or deploying of solar arrays and antennas.

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Forward Progress at NSS Phoenix

meeting minutes


Several members of NSS-PHX attended the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix (HSGP) meeting today and met with their board. We discussed continuing meeting at their facility and possible future joint activities. The bottom line is that we will be able to use their facility for our monthly meetings although there will be a nominal fee involved.

Additionally, Chuck Lesher has some innovative ideas on bringing together like-minded people from NSS, HSGP, and Arizona State University for possible endeavors like joint outings/tours, scholarships, and community outreach. He presented those to the HSGP board and these are the kind of ideas that our NSS group needs to find new members and ways to reach out to other groups.

Changes at NSS

by Mike Mackowski


Over the past few days there have been some leadership changes in the National Space Society.  The executive director, Paul Damphousse, has resigned. He has only been in this position for about a year, and gave no specific reason for leaving.  On a more local note, our own Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto has resigned from her position as an at-large director as of this past weekend.

From my perspective, and while NSS does important things on a national scale, it is at the grass roots level that we can be most effective in promoting a strong American space program.  So no matter who serves in leadership roles, we really need active members at the chapter level to actually make things happen.  So thank you to the folks who came to last Saturday’s meeting, and we hope to see you and many others involved in future local activities.

I’d love to see your comments here with your thoughts on these changes and any other topics you’d care to discuss.