The Occupy Mars Learning Adventure

Training Jr. Astronauts, Scientists & Engineers

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Who wants to compete with robots in China?

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The Mars Society is Coming to California

NASA Kilopower Chief Designer to Address Mars Society Convention

The Mars Society is pleased to announce that Dr. David Poston, the chief designer of NASA’s new Kilopower space nuclear power reactor, will give a plenary talk to the 21st Annual International Mars Society Convention, which will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center, August 23-26, 2018. The Kilopower project is a near-term technology effort to develop preliminary concepts and technologies that could be used for an affordable fission nuclear power system to enable long-duration stays on planetary surfaces.

Dr. Poston is the leader of the Compact Fission Reactor Design Team at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is responsible for the design and development of nuclear fission reactors for civilian, NASA and defense applications in space. In this position, Dr. Poston serves as the Chief Reactor Designer for the NASA Kilopower Project, including the DUFF and KRUSTY reactor experiments. His 25 years of space reactor experience has been primarily focused on near-term concepts for solar system exploration (including designs for missions to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune). In addition, Dr. Poston has developed several Nuclear Thermal Rocket (NTR) design concepts for NASA over the past several years.

Prior to his experience at Los Alamos, Dr. Poston worked at GE Nuclear Energy for four years on advanced reactor design. He received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, an M.S. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Michigan.

For more details about the 2018 International Mars Society Convention, including online registration and call for papers, please visit our web site ( A list of confirmed speakers and a tentative program itinerary will be posted on the web site in the very near future.

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The Occupy Mars Learning Adventure is Going Online: What are the best doing?

Research is the Key to Building a High-Achieving Online School

By Cait Etherington March 30, 2018

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At least some online schools are not only meeting but far exceeding the achievement levels of students in traditional on-premise schools. Davidson Academy is one of the online K-12 schools demonstrating the potential online schools have to offer an outstanding education to high-achieving students.

This week eLearning Inside News talked to Stacy Hawthorne, Director of Online Learning at the Davidson Academy in Nevada, to learn how they have built a high-achieving online school for profoundly gifted students.  This is the second part of a two-part series (we published the first part of this interview on March 29).

Eroding the Differences Between On-Site and Online Learning

Cait Etherington: The Davidson Academy also has an on-site school. What sort of interaction do your on-site and online students have?

Stacy Hawthorne: We currently have one course, Yearbook, that is co-enrolled. This course meets on Fridays and is taught by an instructor at the Reno school. During this course, Reno students meet in the same room while the online students attend using video conferencing software. When the whole class is working together, the video feed for the online students is projected on the main classroom display. When students are working collaboratively in groups, the Reno students log into the video conferencing software on their computers and connect directly with the online students in their group.

Because we value the whole school experience for our students, we also offer opportunities for students to connect in non-academic ways. During the annual Davidson Academy Halloween costume contest in Reno, online students were able to join via video conferencing. Reno campus students shared their costumes via live video feed from Reno while Online students watched, then the Online students shared their costumes via the video feed for the Reno campus students. Students from both campuses enjoyed the opportunity to get to know each other in a less academic way.

We are continuing to build in more opportunities like this. Right now both Online and Reno students are competing in an NCAA March Madness bracket challenge.

CE: What factors support the success of your online students?

SH: We have a full slate of support services for Online students including technology, counseling, advising, and college admissions services. Our counselors meet with all students regularly, spending time getting to know them. This is important so that every student knows that the whole staff cares about their success.

Students meet once a semester with their advisor who helps keep them on track for graduation. We have a dedicated technology staffer whose primary responsibility is to ensure that students have a knowledgeable person readily available if they experience any technical issues or want to test technology before needing to use it in class. Lastly, all of our staff members are available by our internal instant messaging system any time a student has a question or wants to talk.

Davidson Academy’s Advice on How to Build an Outstanding Online School

CE: There have been a lot of reports recently about online schools underperforming. Why do you think so many online schools are failing? What advice would you give to new and emerging online schools to create the conditions for student success?

SH: We put three years’ worth of research and design into building Davidson Academy Online. Many of the schools that are failing are looking to maximize enrollments and have less selective admissions processes. Our online learning readiness indicator and parent interviews are important parts of our application process and help everyone involved in the admissions decision ensure that online learning is the right choice for the student.

We use a highly personalized model of online learning. For us, this means small class sizes with no more than 15 students in each class. All of our core courses meet using video conferencing software for two, 90-minute sessions each week. During these live, synchronous sessions students and the instructor have their webcams and microphones enabled so they can see and interact with each other in real-time. Live sessions are centered on cognitive discourse and provide opportunities for everyone to contribute. This type of approach to online learning helps both students and teachers to feel connected to each other and the school.

Early proponents of online learning often touted the cost savings of online learning. We would caution new and emerging schools of entering into the field with the belief that it will instantly provide a financial return. First and foremost, online learning should be about providing students with a rich and meaningful learning experience, and staff with a rewarding professional experience. Online learning that meets this threshold is rarely going to require less financial resources and time commitment than more traditional models of education.

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Virtual Reality of the Future of Mars Training

The Barboza Space Center is educating the next generation of “Marsnauts.”   We are members and doing what we can to support the Mars Society.

A Message from Robert Zubrin Regarding the MarsVR Program

Hello Everyone,

Virtual Reality and the creation of VR tools to support the human exploration of Mars is a strategic focus of The Mars Society. We intend to demonstrate the potential of VR to allow millions of people to directly participate in Mars exploration. Our VR tools will support the training of our crews at the Mars Desert Research Station, promote STEM education, and will help instill broad public support of human Mars exploration.

To this end, we have established the MarsVR Program. MarsVR is a multi-phase effort to create new VR environments and release them to the public via open source licenses, to maximize their effectiveness and the ability of the larger VR and software development community to assist us. We are already working with several key individuals and companies in the VR landscape and will be adding to this list as time goes on. Some of the people currently involved are:

  • Shannon Norrell, formerly of HP and one of the founders of the HP Mars Home Planet initiative which has several VR components. Shannon is a key participant in our VR development effort for Phase 1.  (Note: HP is not an official supporter of the MarsVR Program)
  • Az Balabanian, a Filmmaker, Virtual Reality documentarian, and the Founder of azadux, a Creative Productions agency. Az is an expert on the cutting-edge 3D mapping technique called Photogrammetry, which produces eerily familiar reprojections of real-world places. We intend to leverage Az’s expertise for creating the MDRS VR environment, assets, and terrain textures.
  • Greg Chamitoff, former astronaut, professor of practice in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University, and head of the AeroSpace, Technology, Research and Operations (ASTRO) center at the university. He’s a founding member of the Mars Society and has been working with a team of students for the last two years on SpaceCRAFT VR, which has many similarities with MarsVR.  We’re working with Dr. Chamitoff to find ways to share common elements between MarsVR and SpaceCRAFT VR.
  • Jeff Dillon, senior engineer at Unity Technologies, which is the leading framework for creating 3-D environment for Virtual Reality and has broad community support as well as multiple devices supported. We see Unity as a key partner in MarsVR, and as Jeff is a Mars Society member already, he’ll be a key collaborator with us to get what we need from Unity to build great VR experiences.
  • Robert Madsen, co-founder & Studio Director of Synaptix Games, and a Mars Society member who has presented on VR at our annual convention. Robert & his team have experience with VR and photogrammetry, and they are only an hour away from the MDRS in Grand Junction, Colorado, which is also a key advantage.
  • Stuart Spence, a Unity expert and educator, and creator of an open source game called Martian Agora, among other projects. Stuart has provided some great advice to us on how to approach the creation and open sourcing of our VR tools to ensure their use for STEM education.

The MarsVR program is being led by James Burk, our IT Director since 2011 and a founding member of the Mars Society. He’s formerly with Microsoft and has been a technical project manager for over 20 years. I have full confidence in James to lead the MarsVR effort and drive the team towards delivery of the VR tools we intend to create.

As of this writing, our Phase 1 Kickstarter is over three-quarters funded (78%) with ten days remaining. While we are confident we will reach our target goal, we still need your support.  Help us advance the state-of-the-art of Virtual Reality by creating tools and processes for serious research, STEM education, and public outreach. Please give generously to our MarsVR Kickstarter campaign and tell your friends and colleagues about this important effort to promote the use of VR towards our goal of the human exploration and settlement of Mars.

Thank you.

Dr. Robert Zubrin
President & Founder, The Mars Society