We are wrapping up 2017, and looking forward to a new 2018. After many years of relatively slow progress in Space exploration, I feel that the wheels of progress are beginning to turn faster.
Looking back, we have two rovers still working on Mars (Opportunity and Curiosity), we had Cassini’s dramatic end to an incredible mission, and ongoing discoveries from Jupiter, and even beyond the solar system with Voyager.
SpaceX has increased its operational tempo to the point that the launching and recovering – and even re-using – of rockets has become almost routine – including a launch to the ISS of a recycled dragon capsule. Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin did more test flights of their tourist sub orbital rockets. The SLS continues development, and mission plans for more deep space missions are in the final evaluation stages at NASA. We have a new national Space Council established in 2017, and a new NASA administrator (maybe… he’s still awaiting confirmation) – Rep Bridenstine. While he holds views on Global Warming that are controversial, he is a strong proponent of private space initiatives and is considered friendly to the cause of deep space exploration. Lastly, we had an official announcement from the White House that the US will have a goal of manned deep space exploration by returning to the Moon. While this is not Mars direct, it is more progress than endlessly circling the Earth.
Looking forward, 2018 looks to be a watershed year with the (finally!) launch of the Falcon 9 Heavy, the largest lift capacity since the Saturn V, possibly in January. A crewed dragon is expected to launch to the ISS in 2018, bringing the US back to being able to launch our own astronauts into space rather than relying on the Russians. Scheduled for the fourth quarter (so it could slide into 2019) is a flight by two private individuals to fly by the moon. This is an interesting development where private funding is enabling a dramatically more rapid, and cheaper, approach to space exploration than a traditional government contracting approach, or even commercial contracting by the government. As launch costs continue to drop dramatically, will private enterprise overtake government agencies as the primary explorers of deep space?
In the Mars Society and our local chapter, we’ve seen this growing excitement. As public interest in Mars and space exploration increases local museums have invited us to 4 local events, versus the two in 2016. Our relationship with the Frontiers of Flight museum has deepened, and we were invited for the first time by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. We continued our judging at the Dallas Regional Science and Engineering Fair, and we were invited by the NSS to speak at the Texas Regional Space Development Conference. All of these were exciting events, and we appreciate our local partners in the community for giving us these opportunities. I also want to thank all of our members who volunteered their time and effort that made these events happen.
While we were homeless for much of 2017 as our old haunt at the Spaghetti Warehouse closed, we found a new home right next door at Norma’s.
Nationally, we had another great conference in Los Angeles, with increasing attendance and an increasing number of small businesses showing interest in the convention and Mars and Space exploration. I enjoyed presenting two presentations at the convention, and there were a lot of dynamic talks and side discussions.
Last, but not least, the University Rover Challenge continues to grow, with a record breaking 2017 year, and now over 90 teams applying for 2018. We need more volunteers!.
This coming year is going to be even more exciting than the last!