Abstracts11th European Mars Convention Account
From the 30th of September till the 2nd of October 2011, in the frame of the premises of the University of Neuchâtel, the Mars Society Switzerland hosted the annual convention of the European branches of the Mars Society, "EMC11" ("11th European March Convention "). The theme of the convention was: "Exploring Mars is Key for Understanding Earth. Let's Go!" Along 24 lectures and two debates with renowned science journalists (Olivier Dessibourg of Le Temps and Stefan Stöcklin of Beobachter Natür), all aspects of Mars exploration have been addressed and discussed. The speakers came from all horizons. Swiss or foreigners, members or not of the Mars Society branches in Europe or the United States, they were first of all, acknowledged experts in their field (graduates of the EPFL, ETHZ or renowned universities abroad, CSEM researchers or staff of companies dedicated to Space exploration like, for instance, the Space Exploration Institute in Neuchâtel). The public, relatively large for this type of conference, proved passionate and motivated. Some had traveled from distant countries (Norway, Poland, the Czech Republic). The others came from France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Belgium ... and of course Switzerland. Professor Peter Kropf, Dean of the Faculty of Science of the University of Neuchâtel, welcomed the delegates, stressing the tradition of Neuchâtel for scientific research and long-standing interest for Space and Time (observatory, Time-frequency laboratory) as well as for microtechnology. Pierre Brisson, President of the Mars Society Switzerland, recalled why it is more interesting to go to Mars than to any other celestial body (especially the Moon), concluding by projecting NASA’s MOLA topographic map of Mars. The first part of the Convention was to review what we know today about Mars. Tobias Keller (ETHZ, specialist in geodynamics, magmatism, planetology and numerical modeling) explained how, according to the model he made, Mars must have been formed. His presentation showed the accretion of the planet, from the same materials as Earth, and further differentiation of nucleus, mantle and crust. Soon, according to its smaller mass and possibly the relative dryness of its magma, Mars lost the advantages that its bulkier sister Earth was able to enjoy. It stiffened fast while cooling down and lost most of its atmosphere. Tobias Keller’s modeling, which accounts for both the dichotomy of the crust and the Tharsis volcanism, looked very convincing. Cedric Gillmann (Institute of Geophysics, ETHZ, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Mars Society Switzerland member) showed that late volcanism renewed the atmosphere that had escaped almost completely after a few hundreds millions of years on account of weak gravity and magnetosphere. His conclusion was that Mars could not keep liquid water stable on the surface more than during the first few hundred million years of its existence (until about -4 billion). It was short but maybe enough to give a chance to Life and it matches the deductions of Tobias Keller. Charles Frankel (geologist, board of Association Planète Mars) spoke of water ice on Mars. As everybody has known for a long time, there is of course plenty of ice at the poles, enough to form a sea of 30 m thick over the entire planet in case it would melt. But the SHARAD radar has also identified what looks like slabs of ice under the regolith at lower latitudes (traces of changes of rotation axis?). In this spirit, he signaled that Crater Gale, where the MSL probe should land in August 2012, shows clear traces of glacial flows that would obviously be very interesting to study closely. He also suggested that ice caves may have been, and still might be, good places for hosting life. In the frame of his presentation, "The identification of microbial fossils: the possibilities and limitations of optical imaging", Beda Hofmann (Geologist, Institute of Geology, University of Bern, Museum of Natural Sciences) showed images at definition of the CLUPI camera that will equip ExoMars, illustrating what we will be able to detect visually on Mars (including traces of life, past and possibly present). By analogy to what was identified on Earth as belonging to the earliest times, these traces could be those of microbial filaments or even stromatolites. The possibility of an evolution that led to the emergence of life which then aborted, at a time when liquid water disappeared from the surface of Mars, is enough to consider Mars as a critical subject of research since remnants of that early time on planet Earth have been almost completely erased by plate tectonics and erosion caused by liquid water. The similarities with Earth are enough, also, to consider that Mars could support a permanent human presence, opening the prospect of a continuous geographic expansion of our species, in line with its multi-millennia thrust. The second part of the Convention was to present examples of research equipment on board the Mars probes and satellites already launched or planned to be launched. Sebastian Gautsch (EPFL / IMT / SAMLAB, Vice-President of the Mars Society Switzerland), theorist of the atomic force microscope "FAMARS" onboard the PHOENIX lander, has explained the interest of this instrument used to assess the nature of the dust and the role of erosion by scrutinizing particles at the nanometer scale. Jean-Luc Josset (Director of the Space Exploration Institute, ExoMars and camera CLUPI) presented the CLUPI imager part of the instruments which should board ExoMars (ESA) in 2016/2018. It is a color imager of 145 grams which can segregate down to a definition of 15 microns per pixel, and is able to see between 10 cm and infinity. A remarkable feature: the instrument has neither engine nor lubrication system. The movement of lenses is obtained by the action of a magnetic field on deformable pieces made of titanium. Fabien Jordan, graduated from EPFL and staff of the Space Exploration Institute, described the instrument "Pan Cam WAC module" that will equip the ExoMars panoramic camera. Through its many filters, this camera will not only get color images but also determine the mineralogical characteristics of the observed rocks. Both instruments are made under the responsibility of the Space Exploration Institute. Michel Cabane, from LATMOS, co-principal investigator of “SAM” (i.e: "Sample Analysis at Mars"), one of the main instruments of the mission aboard the MSL rover Curiosity, the new exploration mission to be launched in November 2011, has developed the theme of the search for organic molecules on Mars. He explained how organic materials can be destroyed by hydrogen peroxide and perchlorate on the surface of Mars and described the SAM equipment which makes 50% of the mass of the 75 kg of scientific instruments aboard Curiosity. Its sensitivity is such that a single bacterium can be detected. SAM is therefore expected to clarify the surprising results obtained by the Viking instruments in the 1970s. Jürgen Herholz (retired ESA engineer and president of the Mars Society Deutschland) kept us posted on the ARCHIMEDES project (balloon to be released into the high Martian atmosphere at high speed). He demonstrated that the European Mars Society branches can, beyond their communication activities, contribute with skills and determination to useful and original projects capable of improving our knowledge of Mars (the balloon will be able to study the consistency of the Martian atmosphere over an extended elevation). Generally speaking, these presentations were an opportunity to be(come) aware of the complexity of machines and instruments designed for the exploration of Mars, to marvel about human ingenuity, and to realize once again that Space technology is at the tip of what can now be conceived in terms of efficiency while satisfying the most demanding constraints of miniaturization, automation and robustness. The third part of the Convention was to show how “we” (the Mars Society in particular) prepare ourselves for human spaceflight, with respect to mission architectures, launchers, rovers, habitats, energy . Indeed, to better explore Mars, we will have to go there physically. The robotic exploration has proven its efficiency but it has also shown its limits. Astronautic engineers present at the Convention (Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society and former chief engineer at Lockheed Martin, Alain Souchier, retired from SNECMA, president of Association Planete Mars, Elisa Cliquet, CNES staff and member of the Board of APM, Marc Salotti, professor at Institut de Cognitique of the University of Bordeaux and a member of Association Planete Mars) have reported on the possibility of undertaking a manned mission today. Contrary to the claims of critics to the project, there are solutions, based on the concepts of "Mars Direct" described in the 1990s by Robert Zubrin (and largely taken into account by NASA during Michael Griffin’s administration, himself a founding member of the Mars Society): "travelling light" (it is only with a minimum mass for such a mission that we can use chemical propulsion which is the only one that we really master today); taking advantage of the Martian atmosphere (“local” CO2 can be a satisfactory source of oxygen and methane using a small mass of imported hydrogen, and the density of the atmosphere, though quite thin, allows aerobraking); using artificial gravity during the trip to Mars in order to avoid health problems (and disabling effects) that would be caused by microgravity (the last stage of the launcher can be used as the habitat counter-mass, both being linked by a tether and rotated). Robert Zubrin and Marc Salotti have conceived variants to the original Mars Direct plan so that it be possible with existing launchers, without waiting for the next-generation of heavy-lift ones including the new heavy launcher from NASA ("SLS"), and within acceptable budgets (a few tens of billions of dollars). According to Robert Zubrin we could use the Space X Falcon 9 Heavy launch vehicle by reducing the crew down to two people, using largely inflatables (for living space annexes) and keeping an ERV (Earth Return Vehicle) in orbit around Mars. Unlike recommended in the plan “traditional” Mars Direct, methane (2600 kg) would be brought directly to Mars, not hydrogen (to produce methane and oxygen from the carbon dioxide atmosphere). Oxygen would be extracted from Mars carbon dioxide. In this architecture, the mass balance is less good, but the production process is simpler. NB: This proposal is obviously presented as a solution to the problem resulting from the agencies reluctance to develop heavy launchers (capable of putting 130 tonnes on low earth orbit). It is justified only to show that Mars manned exploration is possible now, even with very limited means. In the same spirit, Jean-Marc Salotti developed an original flight concept that he named "2-4-2," according to which two ships would be sent at the same time, each carrying two astronauts and which would travel alongside. This architecture has been published in Acta Astronautica in 2011 (vol. 69). Alain Souchier (president of Association Planete Mars) presented an overview of heavy and medium heavy launchers existing or being developed in the world. It showed that the needed mass capacity for a standard (original Mars Direct) manned mission is technically within reach, even in Europe (Ariane “A5”). Elisa Cliquet showed that the optimal configuration of the trip architecture is not necessarily the most energy-intensive. She explained why the VASIMR propulsion cannot allow travelling to Mars in 39 days, the sources of nuclear power being not light enough. In the near future we may expect to reach 15kg/kW but not ten times less (value being taken into account when considering a 39 days route). Electric propulsion will be very interesting, however, to increase the mass transportation capacity to Mars of same size launcher from Earth. Artemis Westenberg (the Netherlands), President of Explore Mars Inc., presented her “ISRU Challenge” for universities, to demonstrate that we can actually produce methane fuel on Mars for on-site mobility and return to Earth. On Mars, human crews will have to live and work with maximum efficiency and safety. Other specialists spoke of this subject. Architects Pierre Brulhet and Olivier Walter ("Archi-Espace", members of Association Planete Mars) showed, like Robert Zubrin in his revised version of Mars Direct, that inflatables are a necessary complement to the "hard shell" capsules and habitats. Their ratio volume over mass and bulk can significantly increase space for living, working and producing (greenhouses). The car designer Florent Mennechet (KIA Motors) allowed to visualize, in a spectacular way, what could be a pressurized mobile exploration laboratory ("rover") answering the Martian constraints as well as the ergonomics and safety needs of the astronauts. Part four of the Convention was dedicated to Man, his immediate protection, survival, psychological needs. Franco Carbognani of the CEFRIEL Research Center (Politecnico di Milano), and Lara Vimercati (student at Ames Research Center), both of the Mars Society Italia; Emmanuel Bonnet from the Research Center of the French Army (“CréA”); Gernot Grömer, president of the Österreichisches Weltraum Forum and Olivier Chételat of Swiss CSEM, presented the studies they made in the frame of simulation missions, about what life might be like for astronauts on Mars and how to (re)act properly. Gernot Grömer showed the progress made by his team on the improvement of the “Aouda” space suit used, during Spring 2011, in simulations in the Rio Tinto area well known for its acidic environment in which extremophiles thrive. This suit is equipped with an exoskeleton that restores the efforts which a real suit would exert on the astronaut, thwarting his movements. Olivier Chételat, associated to the Aouda suit tests, showed the progress made in the field of LTMS (“Long Term Montoring Survey” systems) to remotely track the physical conditions of astronauts traveling to Mars or working on its surface (temperature, stress, balance, etc...). At the interface between health concerns and service to equipment on board, Theodore Besson (Industrial Ecology Group, Faculty of Science and Environment, UniL) outlined the needs and hopes of solid and liquid waste recycling as well as atmosphere regeneration. In this area, through research around the world, especially in connection with MELiSSA (ESA), considerable progresses are being made in micro-ecosystems as artificial life support systems. It is indifferent to no one that it has a positive impact on the environment of our own planet Earth. Lara Vimercati reported about the MDRS "102 Mission" (“MDRS” for “Mars Desert Research Station” of the Mars Society, located in the Utah desert) during which her team studied the maintenance of the station, alarm systems, recycling and production of cyanobacteria (Spirulina) that could be used as a valuable source of protein. Franco Carbognani expressed his ideas on possible new type of habitats, taking into account the experience accumulated in the various simulations and the potential of inflatable structures. He also recalled a few sentences, clumsy and unduly pessimistic, written by opponents to new technologies in 1906, in The (London) Times: ("All attempts at artificial aviation are not only dangerous to human life but also doomed to failure in terms of engineering"). He noted that the same kind of statement is being used today for Martian exploration, as in 2006, in “Astronomy Magazine”: "Biologists estimate that during the two years of a Mars mission, astronauts can lose between 13 and 40% of the mass of their brain”(!?). Emmanuel Bonnet presented his research on human factors in stressful situations and emergencies and the implications of this type of situations for logistics and coordination. The purpose is to see what the organizational learning processes of a group are. A field study in the MDRS Mars analogue station is scheduled in 2012. Critics on the dangers of Martian manned flights were not discarded. Richard Heidmann (founder of Association Planete Mars and former director at SNECMA) presented a comprehensive and well documented study of the radiation hazards. It appears that a manned mission to Mars (surface stay plus travel time) would not be more dangerous than an equivalent duration stay in the International Space Station, and that it would be bearable, with some precautions, in case of solar flares. It was noted that the stay on Mars surface (travel excluded) would in any case be considerably less dangerous than a stay in the ISS, let alone in deep space, for instance to go and study an asteroid or Phobos. In addition to presentations, two debates were held, led by two renowned science journalists. The first debate between Robert Zubrin, Beda Hofmann and Jean-Luc Josset, led by Olivier Dessibourg, help scrutinized the interest of manned flights relatively to robotic flights. Beda Hofmann and Jean-Luc Josset raised objections to manned flight because of their higher cost and because of the risk of pollution that they may induce, thus hindering research by blurring Mars specificities. Robert Zubrin answered by putting forward that manned mission would allow a more efficient exploration (a machine does what it is programmed to do and can miss critical observations or lack vital reactions) and, more philosophically, that it is in the very nature of Man to go forward and continue its expansion outside of the cradle of his home planet. The second debate, led by Stefan Stöcklin and in which participated the representatives of the various branches of the Mars Society, focused on the motivations for the exploration of Mars. The prospect that humans undertake this adventure obviously raised the enthusiasm of the panel members who saw both a need for science and the emulation of young people, and also a way to satisfy Mankind passion for exploration and adventure. Their views on the value of the «Mars 500» experiment were mixed on account of its lack of realism. Conclusion. The end of the Convention was the time to discuss political issues. After Alain Souchier’s presentation about the Chinese exploration policy (on behalf of Philippe Coue who could not come) and that of Mars Society Polska (represented by its President Mateusz Jozefowicz) on the possibilities of marketing for promoting the Mars project, and the hopes they have to commercialize their robots (for various tasks on Earth), Robert Zubrin presented an update on the political situation of the Mars exploration project, noting with sadness the low level of motivation of the current U.S. administration. He stressed the importance for the future of the United States, of revitalizing the "frontier" spirit. The conquest of Mars would obviously be quite in line with what this “frontier” spirit stood for in the old days. He stressed that it resulted from the stringent political constraints that govern the implementation of such a project, that it was necessary that the objective be clearly defined (obviously Mars) and strict delays imposed (no more than two U.S. presidency terms). Within this period, a realistic and simple plan like that of Mars Direct (or its variants) could be successfully implemented. Pierre Brisson concluded EMC11 by asking participants to remain optimistic and to commit, wherever they are leaving and active, in convincing their “human environment” of the interest and feasibility of exploring Mars. It is only on the basis of popular support that politicians are likely to take the decision "to go". For us, "Earthlings", this development is vital as it would trigger innumerable opportunities. Conversely, a refusal to go to Mars could lead to the same withering as the one experienced by China from the fourteenth century onward, after Emperor Xuan De ordered Admiral Zheng He to stop his “useless” exploring (which had led him as far as the cost of Kenya). We know what decline for China, followed this fatal decision. We must do everything to avoid a new renouncement of this kind upon the initiative of President Obama. In addition to spreading the latest pieces of information about Mars, facilitating discussions on topical issues and brain storming about the latest exploration concepts, EMC11 was an opportunity for many informal exchanges that should bear fruits for a better efficiency and visibility of the Mars Society in Europe and worldwide. Thanks to the City of Neuchatel which offered a drink to participants in the frame of its prestigious Museum of Art & History, culture was also part of the program. At the end, the baton was passed by the MSS to the German branch of the Mars Society ("MSDe") that will hold EMC12 in Munich, next fall (date to be determined). Pierre Brisson