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The Human to Mars Summit; Hope On A Harsh Planet

Here’s a breakdown of the Humans to Mars Summit 2021

CK Kimball
September 17 2021
Us on Mars someday...hopefully: Shutterstock

Last week was The 
“Humans to Mars Summit 2021”, presented by Explore Mars, Inc, and some of the biggest names in space advocacy were out in force! The summit took place remotely September 13th to September 15th with full days of zoom panels featuring experts such as Maria Antonietta Perino of Space Italy and Dr. Tiffany Vora of Singularity University covering the wide range of topics related to what it is developing to be the real future of Mars colonization.

If those names are unfamiliar, then you’re probably part of the majority interested in space, but not an astronaut or financially invested in aerospace manufacturing. As such, the concept of space exploration to the average person is astronauts, space shuttles and imagining futuristic Mars cities. To the general public, the race to space is happening between two billionaires in Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX as they compete for contracts with NASA. But what’s developing behind the scenes in preparation is far more intricate, advanced, and fascinating. 

Explore Mars is a nonprofit to advance the cause of sending humans to Mars through concrete programs and projects within the next two decades. It is moderated by CEO and co-founder of Explore Mars, Inc, Chris Carberry and President of Explore Mars, Inc and Creator and CEO of the award winning “Janet’s Planet," Janet Ivey; H2M 2021 was a summit of possibility and the discussion of compromise. Basically, the theme is the hope of Mars colonization. 

Each of the three days featured multiple panels with experts covering a diverse set of topics and considerations. But a few themes became prominent throughout the 17 hours of information: 

  • Developing technology and practices to survive and work autonomously on Mars. 

  • Budgetary concerns in developing that technology. 

  • Focusing on settling the Moon first as a “trial run” of Mars colonization. 

  • The cost/benefit analysis of this much effort to reach another planet in the first place. 

So, with all that said, and our themes being set, let’s get into the day-by-day of the Humans To Mars Summit 2021.


Via Instagram

Day 1 brought a focus on what can be achieved and what should receive focus, such as autonomous robots, in efforts to reach and settle on Mars in the 2020’s and 2030’s. After all, getting to Mars is only a fraction of the challenge. The need to drill for water ice, growing crops and providing oxygen on Mars are the real hurdles to overcome. However, Mars wasn’t chosen over the rest of the solar system as the prime location for humans off Earth for the romance of the Red Planet. In consideration of Mercury’s 800 degree Fahrenheit days, Venus’s similar volcanic hellscape, Pluto’s -375 to -400 degrees Fahrenheit existence, and Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus’s lack of a solid surface at all… Mars is simply the most workable of what’s available.

But “workable” isn’t easy and Mars is harsh. Along with a thin atmosphere and no magnetosphere to block high levels of radiation from reaching the planet, light-blocking dust storms can rage for days with no rain and no clouds. The soil contains high levels of toxic chlorine and, while Mars is nowhere near the extremes of its fellow celestial body’s, it’s pretty consistently cold with mean surface temperatures of −125 and 23 °F.  That’s a lot of variables to contend with while being 33.9 million miles away from Earth.

“As we know, on Earth, we don’t typically send people to remote and extreme environments to live for months or years without knowing something about the place.” Laurent Sibille, Sr. Technology Development Scientist and Subject Matter Expert with the Southeastern University Research Association.

And “knowing something about the place” is the challenge being that any humans left on Mars surface will not only be in for some form of extended stay, but would need to bring anything and everything they need to survive.

“[We’re] talking about something that not many conferences cover at this point, because we’re very early into this concept of civil engineering on Mars or civil engineering anywhere other than Earth.” Laurent Sibille. 

The development and application of AI and other autonomous robots has been part of the Mars conversation for some time, but what the Day 1 panel discussion brought was a deeper dive into the importance and details of building as much on the Mars surface ahead of humans and doing so with sustainability in mind. It’s no secret that major travel, whether commercial plane or space shuttle, involves a lot of waste. But in the case of a long-term Mars excursion, every single resource has to be used, and reused, to the nth degree.

But while Day 1, in all the excitement of the first day of a scientific summit, was littered with panels extolling the technological advancements and possibilities of the coming decades, a more sobering fact was mentioned, discussed, and returned to throughout the three-day remote conference. Mars needs money. While the space program did receive a 6% budgetary increase under the Biden administration, updates to infrastructure have been needed since the Apollo years of the sixties. Such backlogged work and desire to “catch up” in space exploration has led to a new era of private company partnerships.

“NASA isn’t going to double their budget anytime soon so we have to be advantageous and innovative to achieve our goals.” Patrick Finley Director, Civil Space Policy with the National Space Council.

Because the reality is, though space and Mars could be the unifier of Earth world nations, there is still competition with other countries, like China, in play. Though natural resources, as far as we know, on Mars are sparse, any resources found or developed will enter a debate of ownership and management. 

“It’s all of together, trying to make progress, trying to make this goal happen.” Alicia Brown, Associate Administrator, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs with NASA.

As mentioned, Mars is kind of insane and even with the intrepid Perseverance rover dutifully sending back rocks from the surface, humans do not have the most confident idea of what’s going on inside Mars. Which is how the Moon enters the chat. 


Via Instagram

Day 2 panels looked to the future and how the value of science and exploration meet together. It also further expanded on how Earth’s Moon could be the stepping stone to Mars colonization. There’s a lot to consider in landing and settling humans on another world, but that doesn’t mean the only roles available in space exploration require higher education, credentials, and a lot of patience for math. Day 2 began with a panel of young guns in grad students and program managers covering motivating professionals and pre-professionals in the space workplace. 

From soil sustainability to ecology to the continued advancement of communication to graphic design, Andrea Lloyd Technical Specialist for the Landsat Program with the US Geological Survey Earth Resources Operations and Science reminded viewers that it’s a Space Industry. Meaning there’s a role for everyone and, with the unknowns of space outweighing the knowns, everyone’s skill is useful. 

This includes talents in “Marschitecture”. Day 2 brought a discussion, not just on the best solar panel for cutting solar radiation, but the importance of aesthetic and thoughtful design in future Mars cities.  

“The built environment has an effect on our behavior, our choices and our feelings. 

It’s time to shift our focus to how to LIVE on mars, rather than how to die there.” Said, Michal Ziso, CEO of ZISO. 

Long-term or short-term, the stay on Mars will not be a weekend excursion. Weeks to months to over a year could be in the cards. Not dying is important, but living is a key element to staying alive. Whether humans realize it or not, the design of the dwellings and the feel of the environment around them affects their mental state and developing settlements on Mars without consideration to appearance and “feel” is akin to building remote penal colonies.

Aesthetic design applied to future off-world settlements, not just “Marschitecture” but lunar settlements as well, may seem a little “cart before the horse,” especially considering humans have still yet to even return to Earth’s moon. But, as mentioned in Day 1, preparation in space exploration is the key to survival. Every single detail matters and every single detail deserves consideration and application. 

And those details, it seems, are better explored with Earth’s moon before tackling Mars. 

“In building up our capabilities at the moon over time, we are working to send humans to mars late in the decade in the 2030s,” said Bill Nelson, a NASA Administrator.  

Proponents of space advocacy and Mars enthusiasts alike are chomping at the bit to get to Mars as fast as possible. Off-world exploration has been a dream for decades and is seemingly closer than ever before. And so, while the consensus amongst the science community is to work on a Lunar settlement first as a “trial run” so to speak, the debate on how close to get to Mars in the immediate future rages on. 

As Bret Drake, Associate Director, Space Systems Architecture with The Aerospace Corporation and Hoppy Price, NASA JPL with the Mars Orbital Mission 2033 politely debated, there may be an equal risk-reward ratio to landing on mars as there is to  

traveling the distance just to orbit around the Red Planet. These risks could be mitigated and these rewards could be found by keeping the focus on the 238,900 mi away Lunar surface compared to the millions of miles away Mars. 


Via Instagram

And finally, it was Day 3 - A day of wrapping up and refocusing on the hope of Mars travel. While there were panels describing the systems already in place like EVA suits (space suits for planetary observation) and the beloved MOXIE, there were also reminders that these innovations are working due to the energy of preplanning and focused detail described in the previous two days. 

“About everything that uses chemical energy, needs to breath in some sense.” Michael Hecht, Principal Investigator of MOXIE with MIT Haystack Observatory. 

Michael Hecht is referring to utilizing resources, touching upon the facts and considerations of the importance of sustainability. Not just in the future conservation of resources, but in the bigger scale of how resources are connected. Large machinery needs water, rockets need oxygen to burn, hydroponic crops to be grown if toxic soil can’t be turned over, the list could go on and is a piece of the “why” of Mars.

Because that question has come up many times in policy. With the human struggle on Earth seemingly growing worse, why spend more money on space? The answer is innovation.

Whatever is developed for a Lunar settlement and then for Mars has the high possibility of advancing the human race on Earth past consistently exhausting our own natural resources. Already space exploration has yielded technology and advancements that have become tantamount to human survival such as weather prediction (hurricane season is only getting worse), communication (smart phones seem pretty popular), wildfire monitoring (also getting worse) and more. 

“We have eight small businesses that are actually involved actually on Mars with the Perseverance Rover right now. So there is a real opportunity for small business entrepreneurs to be a meaningful part of the space program,” said Jason L Kessler, Program Executive, Small Business Innovation Research & Small Business Technology Transfer Programs with NASA.

Opportunity, innovation, hope, unity, are some of the values associated with Mars and space exploration in general so what better note to end on for the “Humans to Mars Summit 2021” than watching their board member become one of the four first civilians to enter orbit.

Dr. Sian Proctor, board member of Explore Mars and now astronaut as part of the Inspiration4 mission, was launched to orbit aboard the SpaceX shuttle Crew Dragon Resilience from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida Wednesday night as her friends, colleagues, and supporters celebrated together in a watch party closing the H2M summit. How incredible to finish three days of theories and expectations of space exploration with the realization of the simple goal of getting an “average” person to space.  

Space advocacy and the deeper aspects of aerospace engineering and the science of space in general may be daunting or out of reach for the average person. But everyone can relate to the excitement of new opportunities and hope for a grander future. And for participants of Explore Mars, Inc “2021 Humans to Mars Summit”, that is what Mars colonization represents.



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