Humans to Mars Conference 2017

I attended the Humans to Mars conference in Washington this week. It was fun to meet attendees from all over the country and the panelists were great.

There were a couple of general feelings this year that were not at all present last year. Most of it is a result of the typical tendency of contractors to adjust to suit changing political winds.

  • Urgency to hit a big milestone in 2020
  • The Moon is not a four-letter word
  • In fact, a deep space gateway (DSG) at the Moon is the best idea since sliced bread

In many panels, the conversation did focus on the recently released NASA architecture to build the DSG in cis-lunar space as a stepping stone to Mars. There were no outspoken opponents to DSG, as expected in a conference full of contractors who know that they won't win contracts by saying it's a dumb idea.

It did not seem like anyone was auditioning to be the next NASA administrator. I thought that Peter McGrath from Boeing made a good impression as a possible leader for DSG. Marcia Smith and Scott Pace were voices of reason among a cacophony of industry reps shouting for a date, a destination, and a plan. Thomas Zurbuchen admitted to blindly following wherever the grown-ups lead him, and Bill Gerstenmaier declared that he loves making compromises. Gerst also mentioned that they need studies from universities on the best place to put DSG, so my guess is that he wants to assemble it in LEO and use commercial crew and cargo to reduce the burden on SLS+Orion. If so, Gerst remains my favorite NASA leader, but perhaps I'm just hearing what I want to hear.

In a rare moment of vulnerability, a Lockheed architect admitted that ECLSS is the main design driver for their DSG system. I noticed that some components appear conveniently when needed, like a canadarm thing, but it's just a draft architecture. In all the draft architectures, people fly on Orion which flies on SLS, nothing else. No Ares I, no Delta IV Heavy, no Falcon Heavy, and no Dragons or Starliners. It was as if Mo Brooks was backstage with a couple of thugs. Well, a rep from SpaceX did present their ITS concept again, but according to the spacex reddit, the presenter there only had one slide that the ultra-fanboys had never seen before. Every slide from Lockheed, Boeing, Orbital ATK, and Aerojet-Rocketdyne looked like something I had seen before.

Here are the winners and losers of the conference:

The "Best Younger Person" aka the "JV MVP" award goes to Peter McGrath, who is likely only in his late 40's! Here are a couple of quotes from him:

We need to standardize the component interfaces for DSG so that all someone has to do to partner with us is follow that technical spec, whether they are domestic companies or international partners.

It doesn't have to cost as much to operate DSG as it does to operate ISS. There's a better way to do ground support, and the Mars orbiters and rovers are examples of that.

The "Smartest Guy In The Room" award goes to, you guessed it, Scott Pace. Here's why. After the panel moderator had gotten the opinions of the more technical panelists on the technical benefits of going to the Moon on the way to Mars, Pace delivered this glorious rebuttal (paraphrased)

The technical benefits don't matter. NASA can solve technical problems; the problems that the Moon helps us solve is how to create an organization of people who have the capabilities, resources, and experience necessary to explore any destination that we choose to. It's not about testing life support or any other technical challenge, it's about building a space-faring society.

The "Most Innovative Architecture" award will go un-awarded this year.

The "Best Tech Demo" award goes to the Lockheed Martin Mars Bus, which destroyed the only competition which was a low-quality VR demo from Aerojet-Rocketdyne. I heard that there was a better VR demo somewhere else, but they lose points for inaccessibility.

Here's some bonus #content, me and SLS, which I may be skeptical about a little bit, at least about its launch date and how it is always imaged with Orion and not the larger payload shroud.

Me and SLS and Orion

© Peter Brandt 2019 | all images in public domain unless otherwise stated