Insights

Planning for Mars Missions and Inspiring Kids at H2M Summit

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By Avery Butner

On April 22-24, I attended the H2M (Humans to Mars) Summit in Washington, D.C., with a couple colleagues at Phillips & Company, one of whom was Anath Hartmann. She gave a great recap of the “Teaching Mars Workshop,” and I also wanted to briefly summarize a few of the panels I watched. The conference not only focused on the how – the necessary technical, scientific and policy-related solutions – to put humans on Mars, but also covered the why – the reasons and benefits to doing so.

I saw the “American Competitiveness and Mars” panel on Day 1, and speakers from Aerojet Rocketdyne, ATK and the STEM Education Coalition discussed the positive impacts of Mars exploration. Julie Van Kleeck of Aerojet Rocketdyne said that human exploration of Mars positively affects American competitiveness because it “pushes the envelope in technology.” They also suggested that the goal of putting humans on Mars excites, inspires and motivates kids, who could eventually join the STEM workforce and continue our nation’s competitiveness.

Also on Day 1, I attended the panel “Human and Robotic Exploration – Building a More Integrated Program.” This panel had only NASA speakers. I agreed it was important to understand the technological and scientific differences between human and robotic exploration from the experts working on these missions. The consensus of the panel, and most in the science and space community, is that it isn’t send humans or robots to explore Mars but send both. Exactly how and when we send humans to Mars depends on when we fill the Strategic Knowledge Gaps (SKG’s). John Connolly, Chief Exploration Scientist, explained that SKG’s are the things that we don’t currently know that affect risks and costs of a future human Mars mission, such as the atmosphere, landing site characterization, contamination, crew health, dust effects and radiation.

Day 3 presented the panel “Critical Mars Measurements Needed to Reduce Human Landing Risks.” A diverse group of speakers – from the College of William and Mary, GWU’s Space Policy Institute, NASA and National Air and Space Museum – discussed how we can put humans on Mars safely and further planning of Mars missions. An example of one of the tasks we need to complete that James Zimbleman (Air and Space Museum) pointed out was a sample of Mars dust needs to be sent to Earth and examined. He said that the toxicity needs to be tested, because we don’t yet know the effects on humans after days of inhaling the dust. Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist, summarizing the panel and Mars exploration, in general, said that all future missions to Mars are part of this pioneering exploration, and we eventually need to plan beyond 2020.

I learned a lot from the conference, and I really liked how Explore Mars put together diverse panels that allowed for inclusive and productive conversations. Yes, many panels comprised a few or all speakers from NASA, but several included industry and nontraditional speakers that provided unique and often unheard perspectives. I enjoyed listening to not only the technical panels but also the more layman panels. I’m looking forward to next year’s H2M.

Several more of the panels from the 3-day event can be found here.

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