Home » 2013 » July

Monthly Archives: July 2013


Call for Volunteers

Updated July 2013
Building the future on Mars:
Opportunities to participate as part of the Mars Desert Research Station Team
(A note to anyone who has contacted us about a position and has not heard from us in some time:  Please contact us again.  I apologize for this, but a number of names and emails have been lost.)
As the Mars Desert Research Station begins its second decade of analog studies in Utah, there are plenty of opportunities to participate other than as a crewmember.  If you would like to get involved in any capacity, or if any of the volunteer positions listed here interest you, please contact us.  We would be delighted to have you join us.  Remember, most of these volunteer opportunities rely on your virtual presence, so you can be part of the team no matter where you are in the world.   Unless otherwise specified, please contact Shannon Rupert at for further information or to volunteer.  
Mission Support volunteers are the backbone of the crew experience.  We support crewmembers from the application process through their rotation at MDRS and beyond.  
We are currently looking for the following Mission Support personnel:
CapCOM Coordinator:  Responsible for daily communication with crews at MDRS.  Schedules CapCOMS for daily COMMS windows and makes sure all crew reports and photos are disseminated.  Trains new CapCOMs.  Estimated time commitment 15 hours a week.  Can be split between two people if two are interested.  
CAPCOMS:  The daily link between crews and Mission Support teams.  In recent years, CapCOMs have usually worked one evening per week, but this is flexible. CapCOMs can be located anywhere in the world and work during the field season only.  Varied time commitment, depending on your schedule.
FLIGHT SURGEONS:  To be part of the flight surgeon team, you must be a medical doctor with relevant experience in emergency, extreme environmental, or remote/telemedicine.  Flight Surgeons are on call 24/7 to advise crews on medical issues that occur while they are at MDRS and usually work with several crews during the field season.  
ENGINEERING TEAM: Members work throughout the field season with Mission Support and should have served as crewmembers at either MDRS or FMARS, although this is not a requirement.  They are also central to refit/work party efforts.  
Engineering Team members should be available throughout the field season several evenings a week or can commit to work parties throughout the year.   We are also looking for a Hab Manager Trainee.  This person would work under the direction of the Hab Manager and would need to live within a day’s drive of MDRS in order join us onsite throughout the year.  They would also need to work with Mission Support on engineering/facilities issues during the field season.  This job has a large time commitment.   
Our next refit/work party will be held in late September/early October 2013.  Please contact us if you would like to join our efforts.
REMOTE SCIENCE TEAM (RST):  Like the Engineering Team, members of the Remote Science Team are mostly scientists who have served on crews at MDRS, FMARS and/or MARS-OZ. RST members work throughout the field season.
PROJECT SCIENTISTS: We welcome scientists who would like to propose a short or long term project at MDRS.  Examples of projects include short term projects that are conducted over the course of a single field season and long term projects conducted over several years. 
ASTRONOMY TEAM: We are looking for people who would like to contribute to our astronomy research and education/outreach at the new and updated Musk Observatory.
GREENHAB TEAM – The Fisher GreenHab (used for CLESS research in the past) has been converted into an operational greenhouse to be used for both crew crops and greenhouse research. 
The following volunteer opportunities are special projects:
EXTERNAL DIRECTOR FOR A FILM SCHOOL CREW:  We are looking for someone who would be interested in developing a two-week field school for film students.  There would be a one-week rotation for documentary film students and a second week for feature film students.  Both teams would collaborate with each other and outside mentors (TBD) to create a short film during their time at MDRS.  The external director could also be a member of the crew.  We would like to initiate this concept during the 2013-2014 field season if possible.
EDITOR, MDRS Mission Reports:  We are looking for an editor to head up a project writing short summaries of all past missions at MDRS.  This person will be responsible for organizing a team of volunteer writers and managing team assignments.  There is already a team of volunteers who would like to work on this project, but the position of editor must be filled first.  There is the potential for publication of this project.
WRITER, MDRS Mission Reports:  We are looking for writers to work on the above project.  Time/writing commitment is up to you.  
EDUCATION/OUTREACH: working with the MDRS teams and Mars Society’s Education Coordinator 
OPEN HOUSE DOCENTS:  We are looking for people to participate in our open house at the end of the field season (May 2014) 
INFORMATION TEAM The time commitment for these positions is flexible.  We are looking for the following team members: 
RESEARCH LIBRARIAN—An independent position for someone interested in keeping track of published work that was conducted at MDRS
WIKIPEDIAN—An independent position for someone interested in creating accurate and updated wiki articles about MDRS.
WEB RESEARCHER—An independent position for someone interested in periodically searching the Web to see what is being published about MDRS.  
And we are always looking for writers, artists and educators with unique ideas about how they can contribute to MDRS.   To get involved, please contact us.


Why Aren’t You Reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars?

normal_RedMars_sketch01_59No other book has affected my life as much as Kim Stanley Robinson’s meticulously detailed science opera, Red Mars. If you want to walk side by side across the surface of an alien planet, with characters whose flaws and humanity, their neuroses and genius make you feel like you are standing right there, then take a trip aboard the Ares into a epic, century’s long story of the taming of Mars.

The book’s prologue introduces us to our characters, decades after the first colonists have landed, a time of celebration for the ribbon cutting of the first free standing city on Mars. You are immediately put into the mind of one of the main characters, and with each act of the book  you will be shown the changing face of Mars through a different person’s eyes, a unique prospective. In the first ten minutes you are exposed to horrific tragedy, the death of friend, immersing yourself in the thick of a complex and life-like world, full of political intrigue and interpersonal relationships. There is no need to feel overwhelmed, though, as the author intends to show you how it all began.

In the first full chapter, time rewinds back to the launch of the ‘First Hundred’, a multinational group of colonists who have been selected to set up base camp on the red planet. Here Kim has really done his research, from the descriptions of the psychological profiling process the participants go through, to the excited inventorying of the tools the colonists will use for building a new world. Each character’s specialty, from geology to therapy, physics to agriculture, widens the concept of this book, and shows us that when an entire planet’s worth of knowledge is distilled into just one hundred individuals, worlds can be conquered.

You will see glimpses of the other stories going on in the background, stories like whispers or rumors among the colonists. Then suddenly, another character will take the stage, showing a different side of the burgeoning community, and those rumors will blossom into their own. As counties start sending more people to Mars, the small time politics of a tiny outpost breaks out into global factions, the intrigue of mysterious disappearing colonists, and the enigmatic maneuvering of multinational corporations. The story scales up at a exciting pace, as a small scientific effort spawns the possibility, or maybe inevitability, of interplanetary conflict.


Finally, while Kim understands human character growth, he also understands one of the most interesting characters is Mars itself. We get a window into a whole new culture, trying to be free and distinct from is parent earth, while knowing it will never quite escape the baggage of thousands of years of human history and nature. You will care for this cast of characters, their causes and their passions, the tragedies and triumphs. In the end, reading this book will make you itch for the frontier, the unclaimed wild land of the red planet. It will make you want to reach for that small red light in the sky, and I think that is the most beautiful result of this great novel.

red-marsYou can pick up a copy of Red Mars on Amazon for as low as 1 cent used! Most bookstores keep a copy of the trilogy, and for the first ten people, if you contact me I will be thrilled to send you a free copy of my favorite book.

Any which way it goes.

I am now officially a proud home owner of a 1,400 square foot home in Phoenix, nestled against south mountain park. In this cozy home I’ve been told Jean-Luc has already claimed which room will be his. He is expecting me to be moving his stuff in about two months. In all that time I have to close out my work here in Afghanistan, demobilized in Germany, out-process and get some dental work done in San Diego, before I can fly home.

The dental work is not too complicated I hope. I lost one of my crowns while I was out here and they claimed that the army did not have the facilities in Afghanistan to do the surgery I needed. They subjected me to a series of fake teeth made from epoxy that broke after only two weeks. I finally found a relatively more permanent solution at a larger base. I now have another epoxy tooth, made of evidently stronger material, as it has lasted for several months.

My stop over in San Diego may be longer than the average because of the dental surgery. This extra time should give me a chance to go car shopping, though. I want to check out the dealerships that handle former rental cars. I bought my last nice car from Enterprise Car Sales and was very impressed with the quality. Common wisdom says that rental cars are driven harder and make poor choices for second owners, but I have found that they are exceptionally clean and meticulously maintained.

In other news, I’m forever trying to figure out what September to December is going to look like for me. I wont be attending regular classes at ASU, due to my mid-semester return. I want to take pre-calculus from Rio-Salado online. I have a conference to help run, a 4 week course in Colorado to attend. I want to go camping with GeoClub, stay up late with the Astro Devils, and build robots with SEDS. So, yeah, I’m trying to juggle a lot of calendar appointments. Any which way it goes, it should be fun.


Kickstarting the Future

We are living in the era of Kickstarter! Crowd funding is taking off for projects around the world and connecting people with ideas.  With micro-funding, masses of everyday people, giving small amounts of cash can fund innovations in areas as diverse as the arts, science and engineering.  I participated in the Kickstarter for Planetary Resource’s Arkyd telescope, which reached a total of over $1.5M.  As I am typing this the BLEduino Kickstarter just ended; $75,000 was raised for the $15,000 goal of creating a mini Arduino with built in Bluetooth 4.0. University of Michigan’s Project to build a prototype plasma thruster for interplanetary CubeSats is 15 days into its funding campaign and has raised 20% of their $200,000 goal.

In exchange for supporting these projects, not only do the donors get to take an active financial hand in advancing a project they care about, there are often physical rewards. Arkyd will be displaying my image in space and taking a photo. I also get a full year membership to the Planetary Society,  a T-shirt and a mission patch for $139.  For my $90 dollars donated to UofM’s CubeSat initiative, I’m getting thank you note laser etched on a solar cell, team T-shirt, mission patch and pen. BLEduino will be shipping me the very project I backed this November for my $34 contribution.

This emerging online system isn’t just for charity, it’s for making projects come to life.

COSMOS: Speaking of projects coming to life, It was just announced that Neil deGrasse Tyson will be hosting the reboot of Carl Sagan’s classic series Cosmos, on FOX. Enjoy the trailer.

ELON: PJ Media has put together a fun little video recapping SpaceX’s triumphs the last few years, and giving Elon Musk another chance to make the case for Mars.

The Knights of Afghanistan

Just another day in Afghanistan, fighting dragons and repairing my government issue chain mail. Check out the above video of these two historical reenactors. We have a lot of free time to develop hobbies out here. Some of us build things, or paint miniatures. So smoke cigars every night and a few play D&D. Then you have guys like this who take their playtime seriously. I have to hand it to these guys, they had some great showmanship for two people wrapped in leather and steel in 110 degree heat hitting each other with bats. Bravo.

TIME: Speaking of history, fighting and time in general, I09 had a great short article detailing “The first Time War“. It did exist, in the 16th century, in fact.

SONIC: What does it sound like to take the original 1963 Doctor Who theme and slow it down to a whopping 20 min. Its a sonic experience you have to hear to believe.

NASA:  With all the space shuttles in museums, NASA is dead, right? Wrong! Huffington Post blogger, Lauren Lyons is doing her part to educate the masses with her blogpost “5 Popular Misconception About NASA” Did you know that public opinion polls show Americans believe that we spend 20% of the national budget on NASA? Or that NASA is part of the Department of Defense? Get the facts by clicking the links above.

With only 38 days left in theater, I am getting really excited about coming home.



Sometimes, scientific truth can be so simple and beautiful that it is best represented as art itself. The feature photo, which is soon to become your desktop background, is one of those pieces of art; the periodic table of elements as a ovoid chart of similar elemental qualities from a Time Magazine article in 1947 . Working in space outreach, I get to see and create a lot of art designed to inform and inspire the exploration of our universe. I think this blog is the perfect place to share these one of a kind pieces.

LEGOS: Speaking of one of a kind pieces, I’d like to show you this amazing video of AmputeeOT building a prosthetic leg from Legos. As the video description states, it was done on a dare from one of her co-works. That will teach them to dare her! Go AmputeeOT! Check out her other videos and awesome tattoos on her YouTube channel.

CLASSICAL MUSIC: Keeping on our art theme, lets take a jaunt into the realm of classical music and bar graphs, with this absolutely mind grabbing visual representation of the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Let me know if everything keeps sliding to the left when the video is over. If you enjoy it there is a lot more on Smalin’s channel, including the entirety of the 9th.

MORE UP GOER FIVE: Some of you may remember XKCD’s Up Goer Five comic. If not, here it is below. The reason I showed you this is to introduce a blog post by Bill Dunford on the Planetary Society’s website. In this blog you will find a video tribute to the Saturn Cassini mission done in the Up Goer Five style. It really is worth your time and I can’t wait to show it to my own little one.

Up Goer Five

If you made it all the way to the bottom, you deserve a prize. Here is the song of the week, Deadmau5’s Faxing Berlin, arguably the song that started it all.

Business and Science, The Future of SEDS

When you think of the kind of students a space club recruits, you probably imagine membership that is heavy on STEM, fields like engineers and geologists, astronomers and rocket scientists. If you looked at the make-up of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, for the most part you would be right. In fact, what SEDS needs more than ever is a heavy dose of business majors, pre-law undergraduates and aspiring marketing professionals.

Why does SEDS need students from Sandra Day O’Connor, W. P. Carey and the Herberger institute? Isn’t SEDS all about inspiring the scientists and engineers, the people who will develop the technology that reaches beyond Earth? We all know the reason we don’t have a base on the Moon or a colony on Mars is because of a lack of advanced technology. Or is it?

Today every student walks around with a computer more advanced than what Buzz and Neil had in their capsule. NASA has had schematics for nuclear powered engines, engines that could take astronauts to Mars in a matter of months, since the 70’s. The life support systems onboard the ISS today would still be recognizable to the engineers of Apollo. A lack of technology is not holding us back.

English: President Barack Obama tours SpaceX l...

English: President Barack Obama tours SpaceX launch pad with CEO Elon Musk, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The true log-jam holding back a flood of space development and exploration is economics. Elon Musk , founder of SpaceX, didn’t build a rocket company from the ground up because he had a revolutionary engine. What he had was a revolutionary business model, that instead of nestling subcontracts within subcontracts for rocket parts like Boeing and Lockheed, he would build everything in house. With this economic model his company ran so lean that in just a few short years he beat industry giants for NASA contracts so old they could have been called fossils.

Peter Diamandsis, who made his wealth as an Intel entrepreneur, understood humanity would never step beyond low earth orbit without an economic incentive. With the X-Prize Foundation he uses cash rewards to encourage competition in achieving technological goals such as landing a rover on the Moon and developing a handheld medical device that can diagnose medical issues like a live doctor. His company, Planetary Resources, is working to establish water and fuel depots from near Earth orbit asteroids, while also recovering their vast platinum group mineral wealth.

Each of these novel technologies, each of these steps into space, is wrapped in a business plan, marketed to the public or angel investors, and has teams of lawyers opening the frozen realms of space law. We need lawyers, who dream of space development, working to change restrictive laws that make private space ventures prohibitive. We need accountants and business people to take our engineering or science ideas and make them profitable and viable. We need marketing gurus to design our kickstarters and hunt out angel investors to fund our enterprises. In the end, we must boldly go where no SEDS-er has gone before, into the schools of law and business to seek out professionals and undergraduates passionate about the final frontier.