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

ASU Astronomy Open House

This coming Friday, 3 December 2010 from 8 to 10 PM, the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration is hosting an Open House at the Bateman Physical Sciences Building. Use the Main Entrance at the H-wing.

There is free Parking (after 7pm) at the Tyler Street Parking Garage. From the parking garage, go East along University Dr sidewalk (toward campus) until you see signs leading you to the entrance.

This Month:

  • Come see the early winter sky! Take our Astronomy Quiz!
  • View exciting celestial objects through our telescopes!
  • Learn about rocks with the GEO Club!
  • Want to see a rock from Space? Stop by the meteorite table!
  • View our out-of-this-world poster display!
  • Have a question about the universe? Ask an Astronomer!

Contact Information:

NSS – Phoenix Chapter Meeting – Saturday 24 October

The next meeting of the Phoenix Chapter of the National Space Society will be this coming Saturday at 11:00 AM at the Noble Library (quadrant 5E on the map, on McCalister Mall, about two blocks west of the light rail station near Tyler St).

It will be held in conjunction with the Earth and Space Exploration Day at ASU (10:00 AM – 4:00 PM).

The agenda will cover:

1. Welcome

2. More arrangements for Holiday Party. It will be either December 5th or 12th. It will be held at Dave Fischer’s house. We need the physical directions and map to Dave’s house. The time will be from 5pm-?. Veronica Ann is collecting names and what people are bringing. Please email her at: with your RSVP and what you are bringing. There will be a 50/50 raffle at this party! All tickets are as follows:

$1.00 each ticket

$5.00 for 6 tickets

Everyone is encouraged to participate in this raffle. 50% of the proceeds go to the NSS Phoenix Chapter !!!

3. We are currently accepting applications for the following NSS Phoenix Chapter Positions:

Educational Outreach Officer
Media/PR Officer
Recruitment Officer
IT Officer

Please email Veronica Ann if you are interested.

4. We are currently seeking Speakers at our January 2010 Chapter Meeting. Sian Proctor had indicated that she would be interested in giving a talk based on her experiences getting into the Astronaut Corps. Is she still interested and what dates is she available?

5. All Chapter Members are encouraged to seek donations and sponsors for the chapter. If you are interested in helping out, please contact Veronica Ann. We need to start earning revenue for our Chapter to promote education outreach as well as to alleviate costs for upcoming field trips. It is the Chapter President’s hope to also create a scholarship for those interested in going to ISDC 2010.

6. Who is going to ISDC 2010. Thus far, the Chapter President is going and would like to know who else is going?

7. Yuri’s Night 2010: Veronica Ann would like to hold an organizational meeting sometime in January 2010 for the NSS Phoenix Chapter to hold a Yuri’s Night 2010 in the Phoenix Region. We would like to invite the following NSS Affiliates to participate:

The Mars Society
The Planetary Society
The National Space Society
The Moon Society

We need to find a place we can hold the event. Either at a local science center or at a college/university. Does anyone have any ideas?

8. Donate Sci-Fi books! Veronica Ann is collecting all Sci-Fi books to loan schools to promote reading (especially in Science Fiction). If you have any Sci-Fi books that you no longer need, please contact Veronica Ann.

9. All NSS Phoenix Chapter members need to send the Chapter President their updated contact information by the end of October 2009. Please included the following in your email:

Mailing Address
Phone Number
Email Address
Please send this information to:

10. Chapter website update:

How many people have visited our site
From where are people visiting our site from

Any new developments, new features to the site?

11. Chapter dues? Should we begin to incorporate Chapter dues to our Chapter again to help raise funding? if so, does $5.00 every six months sound like a plan? we can collect these Chapter dues January 1st and July 1st of every year.

12. The NSS Chapter needs to get more involved in schools. Veronica Ann would like to know who would be interested in giving lectures about human and robotic space exploration? No experience necessary. Veronica Ann will train! Please contact her for more information and the dates that you may be available to give lectures to school children.

13. Veronica Ann is working to redo the Chapter Bylaws. If you would like to help out and proof the Bylaws, please let Veronica Ann know.

14. Next Chapter Meeting will be held on January 30, 2009, from 11AM – 1PM. Location TBD.

15. Q & A session

16. Reminder that the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration is holding their Earth & Space Exploration day in front of the Physical Sciences F-wing (across from the library) from 9-3pm. All members are encouraged to participate in this venue after the meeting.

17. Meeting adjourned!

The World At Night – Report from the Scene

The Educational Outreach programs of the National Space Society of Phoenix and the Planetary Society participated in today’s The World At Night exhibition at Christown Mall in Phoenix.

Between 1,000 and 1,500 children and parents stopped by between 10 AM and 3 PM to ask questions, collect trading cards, copies of the Ad Astra magazine, coloring sheets, stickers, decals, bookmarks, photographs and fact sheets from the members. Activities included making soda straw rockets and mission patches. Around a hundred soda straw rockets were built and launched.

The Challenger Space Center in Peoria brought out their Liquid Nitrogen demonstrations, the Dry Ice Comet, Freeze Dried Ice Cream and the Space Helmet Activity.

The Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration put on some captivating exhibits including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera results from the spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon, and information on Mars, Robotics and Meteorites.

Hard At Work

Hard At Work

LRO Exhibit

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Exhibit

Earth and Space Exploration Day

This afternoon, Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto, President of the Phoenix chapter of the National Space Society, posted an article on about Earth and Space Exploration Day at Arizona State University, in October, 2009. The date is Saturday, 24 October, and as Veronica says in the article:

Mark your calendars for one of Arizona State University’s most interactive, educational outreach event of the year. On October 24, 2009, the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) will be holding its annual Earth and Space Exploration Day event from around 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. A family event hailed as a great Saturday to spend with the kids and at the same time learn about the Earth and our Solar System, this day is filled with many hands-on activities such as panning for gold, identifying your rock or mineral by Dr. Rock and the exhibit of actual meteorites that you can touch!

More information can be found at the ASU SESE web site.

Rocks Exploration