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Madame Mars is a transmedia production designed to prepare all of us for our futures in space, whether orbiting Earth, returning to the moon, or colonizing Mars – and worlds beyond.
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Max Fagin
Aerospace Engineer at 
Made in Space

Elon Musk has been much quoted for saying he'd like to die on Mars - but hopefully not on impact.
High on the list of technical challenges we must overcome before humans won’t die on impact on Mars is developing a workable system for entry, descent and landing (EDL).

The twin Viking landers achieved the first soft touchdowns on Mars in 1976, using three pieces of technology: 1) An aeroshell (a covering to protect the spacecraft from aerodynamic forces and heating); 2) A large parachute to slow the spacecraft; and 3) Low altitude retrorockets to cushion the final descent onto the planet's surface. Every successful NASA lander since has employed a similar EDL strategy - with slight variations.
Viking's aeroshell under construction (left) and Pathfinder's airbags being tested.
Pathfinder (1997), Spirit and Opportunity (2004) added the fourth step of inflatable airbags to cushion the spacecraft after a brief retrorocket burst. Phoenix (2008) abandoned the airbags during the touchdown phase and returned to the retropropulsive touchdown of the earlier Vikings, while the MSL (2012) – a.k.a. Curiosity – also without airbags, lowered the rover away from the retropropulsive module via the sky crane mechanism before touchdown.
Phoenix retrorockets firing (left) and the MSL suspended under sky crane.

Unfortunately, neither airbags nor the sky crane has any relevance to landing humans. These technologies are only are deployed in the final seconds of landing, and only work at low velocities and low altitudes.

The uncrewed landers to date range in mass from 200-1000 kg, but even the most conservative estimates predict that a vehicle capable of landing a crew on Mars will be much more massive, somewhere in the range of 5000-20000 kg (5-20 tonnes). A spacecraft that heavy is just not going to be travelling at a low velocity when it reaches a low altitude. Employing only these strategies, a crewed spacecraft would impact the surface travelling several times the speed of sound.

If we want to land humans on Mars, we need technologies that can be deployed much earlier in the EDL process. We need to develop a way to decelerate the vehicle while it is travelling at higher altitudes and faster velocities. 

Both NASA and SpaceX are currently testing solutions that do just that for the crewed vehicles they plan to send to Mars. 

The experimental Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (an inflatable aeroshell that has flown multiple times at high altitudes on Earth mimicing conditions on Mars) is the strategy NASA is most interested in. By significantly increasing the vehicle’s drag area without significantly increasing its weight, it allows the atmosphere to produce a greater deceleration on the vehicle while it is still high up.
NASA's Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (left) and SpaceX's Dragon 2 firing retro-propulsion rockets.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is betting on supersonic retro-propulsion (SRP). All previous missions to Mars have employed some form of retro-propulsion to decelerate during the final terminal landing phase, but SRP involves igniting the engines while the vehicle is still flying at supersonic velocities through the upper atmosphere. 

SpaceX plans to utilize this method on both Mars and Earth with its Dragon 2 vehicle. The main disadvantage to supersonic retro-propulsion is how much propellant the spacecraft must carry for this operation, but the high level of control afforded by SRP allows for extremely high precision landings, with the associated increase in safety for the crew.

It is still too early to tell for sure which solution will end up being the one used to land the first humans on Mars. There are arguments for each solution, plus other factors to consider - cost, ease of testing, landing accuracy, reusability and safety. A great deal of work remains to be done before a crewed vehicle will be able to survive the process of landing on Mars, but there is reason for optimism.

Max Fagin has worked for NASA and SpaceX, and now works for the startup Made In Space in Mountain View, CA. He earned a BA in Physics and Astronomy from Vassar College, a BE in Mechanical Engineering from Dartmouth College, and recently completed a Masters in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at Purdue University. At Purdue, he minored in astrodynamics and completed a thesis on improvements to Mars EDL trajectories employing SRP.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of Made in Space, SpaceX or any other party.

Jan Millsapps,
Madame Mars: Women and the Quest for Worlds Beyond

Documentaries are famously long-duration projects.

In most cases there is an initial concept, a treatment or story outline, perhaps with bullet points or a list of potential interviewees. There is most likely a stated purpose, a point of view, and a hopeful outcome in mind, but no fixed script - the story evolves over time.
Producers and directors find themselves spending months, years, locating and managing resources, gaining (and sometimes losing) access to vital subjects, engaging in considerable research (nobody wants to tell an incomplete or incorrect story), viewing and reviewing recorded material for its on-screen value, and juggling categories of subject matter to determine what belongs in the finished film and what does not.

Our first shoot: preschoolers at Chabot Space and Science Center creating their own solar system

and performing as planets, asteroids, comets and the sun. This young woman played Mars.

The Madame Mars project began with a focus on women and Mars with the stated purpose of ensuring girls' and women's roles in future space science, space tech and space exploration. Forty-two interviews later - shot in eleven locations, resulting in more than a hundred hours of footage - we find ourselves immersed in editing, a gargantuan task made of many small, tentative steps, quite a few missteps and subsequent corrections, a few giant leaps of faith, and months of hard, hard work.
Documentary filmmakers must often search over time for their story, constructing and assessing many mental, paper and digital edits, identifying themes and connections that eventually solidify the concept into a coherent form, and determining the best way to present the material.

Eventually the footage begins to speak its own story; when that occurs, filmmakers must listen carefully.
The Madame Mars story that has emerged is bigger than women and Mars: it is a voiced commitment to ensure that humanity fully and accurately represents itself as we take our next big step into the universe. At the same time the story is smaller: from the hours of interviews, we believe we have found the voices that best represent our collective quest for futures in space that are representative of all of us here on Earth.
We have been fortunate to meet and talk to many from diverse backgrounds. Did we interview everyone on our initial list? Not by a long shot. But we feel confident that the characters you will see onscreen not only share the individual dream for finding one's own place in space, but also a commitment to the larger goal of furthering human exploration of Mars - and worlds beyond.
Mars looms large over our story, a continuous presence in our collective consciousness from the earliest days of the space age, now extending far into our real, virtual and imagined off-world futures. Like all of those yearning for a red planet encounter, we are poised to see the fulfillment of our own Mars dream, as we take the final steps of our long, long journey.

We welcome Sreang Hok - better known as "C" - the Madame Mars team (seen here working with DocFilm's Robert Barbarino). As he completes his thesis film at SF State, C will also guide us toward a final edit. 

From The Mars Society:
In advance of its annual convention, the Mars Society has announced the winner of its 2016 poster contest.
The winning entry by Bill Wright, a freelance science fiction illustrator, reflects the theme of this year's conference, Mars: A Mission for the Next Administration, Not the Next Generation, and will be used to promote the September 22 - 25 convention at Catholic University in Washington, D.C..
The Mars Society has also announced an updated and redesigned resource, MarsPapers, an online archive of more than 500 Mars-related papers, presentations and documents, all available in PDF format for viewing or downloading. Many of the resources have been presented at past Mars Society conventions; in addition, anyone is encouraged to submit a Mars-oriented document for future inclusion in the archive. Author guidelines can be found here.
From Explore Mars:
As a followup to the recent Humans to Mars Summit, the Explore Mars organization has published the 2016 Humans to Mars Report. In addition, streaming videos of summit presentations are available here.
Our story in the most recent Madame Mars newsletter about Sarah Amiri and the UAE's Mars mission neglected to mention the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at University of Colorado at Boulder as a valued collaborator of the UAE, along with the Space Sciences Lab at UC-Berkeley. Madame Mars regrets the omission and thanks Nancy Ali for providing the correct information.
From the SETI Institute:
Dr. Janice Bishop, senior research scientist at the SETI Institute, was recently awarded the prestigious Jackson Mid-Career Clay Scientist Award for her work identifying clays on Mars.  
For the past decade since the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) has been in orbit around Mars, Bishop has been identifying clays and associated aqueous minerals in ancient rock outcrops that provide us information on potentially habitable sites on our neighboring planet.
But that's just her day job.
Bishop also plays clarinet and recently performed with other SETI Institute and NASA Ames scientists in the International Space Orchestra (ISO), who appeared with the Savages rock band at the Fillmore in San Francisco. The ISO was created by London-based experience designer Nelly Ben Hayoun, who visits the SETI Institute each year to direct orchestra outreach programs. Also a member of the ISO is Yvonne Cagle, featured in the Madame Mars documentary, who plays bass drum.
Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute, was featured guest on a recent episode of the CCTV program Full Frame. where she discussed how her exploration of extreme environments on Earth aid in the search for life on Mars.
From Mars One:
On June 6, Mars One announced details of the next round of its astronaut selection process, designed to trim the current group of 100 candidates down to 40 via a series of group challenges. Self-selected groups of ten will be tested for their ability to work in a team within limited conditions, on how they manage interdependency and trust, on their problem-solving and creativity skills, their thoroughness and precision, their clarity and relevance of their communication. The forty remaining candidates will face additional testing later on this year.
From Kenya Armbrister:

Kenya (on right) and fellow Mars One finalists Jay-Mee Del Rosario, Andrew Tunks, and Sue Ann Pien appeared in a recent episode of CNN's Inside Man. In the episode One Giant Step for Morgan, host Morgan Spurlock chats with the Mars One group outside Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and asks their advice about how to pursue space exploration.
From National Geographic:

The International Cartographic Association is holding a competition - open to anyone - to come up with the best map design for astronauts to use on Mars.
Contestants can download and use free mapping software to choose one of the exploration zones under consideration by NASA, then add to the map everything astronauts will need: a habitat, power plant, and greenhouse, natural features that may warrant inspection, resources like water and metals that may prove useful, and navigational aides. The most interesting feature of the contest, say its sponsors, is the fact that the map will most likely be utilized with technology that has not been invented.

From Scientific American:

Architecture and design students at Pratt Insittute, in partnership with NASA, designed and built scale models of Mars spacecraft interiors focused on how humans would not only function but would also enjoy their living environment on the long trip to Mars.
Industrial design student Amira Selim poses with a mockup of her Sleeping Pod
NASA's Exploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenges have partnered with selected universities during the past six years, assigning tasks ranging from studying how to best grow food in space to designing a better air lock. This year's challenge was to create a transit vehicle that could get astronauts to Mars that was both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional.
What Does Mars Smell Like?
A slightly acrid, gassy smell of sulfur compounds, with a chalky, sweet overtone punching through - says Jacquelyn Ford Morie, whose company All These Worlds LLC is experimenting with a  Headspace technology that synthesizes scents based on an analysis of actual molecules. 

Here's how it would work: a future mission would sample the Martian atmosphere by taking a spectroscopic reading. The results would be beamed back to Earth, where "artisan fragrance designers"  would balance the more malodorous elements with whiffs of something more fragrant to create "Eau de Red Planet."

"They can add the more stinky elements to make a scent that hints at the real Mars while still being cool to smell," said Morie in a recent interview by Leonard Davis. "Many top fragrances have small bits of those otherwise smelly elements in them."

The resulting fragrance  can serve as a potent component for any immersive VR experience, as dispensed by a "scent collar" similar to the one seen here.
Bedazzled Dunes

This image, taken on March 27, 2016, by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows sand dunes in the southern hemisphere of Mars just beginning to lose their winter coating of frozen carbon dioxide. The sparkly dots are created when pressurized carbon dioxide escapes to the surface. 

Sky Watching on Mars:
The Good, the Bad and the Dusty
In his June 10 story on the Discover website, Eric Betz describes how stargazing on Mars would differ from Earth-based observations.
  • Slower sunsets: Night time would arrive more slowly, the colors of sunset shifting from blue to butterscotch during a prolonged twilight. 
  • No twinkling: The stars would not twinkle in the thin Martian atmosphere, but instead would shine steadily.
  • Moon Times Two: the most dramatic night sky objects would be the two Martian moon. Phobos, the larger, potato-shaped one, would rise in the west and set only four hours later, taking time only to change phases from crescent to gibbous as it hurries across the sky. You'd see multiple moonrises and moonsets every night. Deimos, smaller, slower and farther away, would look like the brightest star in the sky.
  • Dust Dimmers: The biggest obstacle for Martian stargazers would be the dust suspended in the atmosphere. A star straight up overhead would dim by one magnitude, and stars at the horizon up to 4 magnitudes.   
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MARCH 2016

Earlier editions:

October 10, 2014 (400kb)
November 4, 2014 (425kb)
November 25, 2014 (580kb)
December 18, 2014 (843kb)
Copyright © 2016 Madame Mars Project/Documentary Film Institute, All rights reserved.

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