SXSW Interactive: The Journey to Mars

NASA lays out the steps before a trip to the red planet

Bad news, other SXSW interactive panels. NASA has (actually) uncovered the secret to building synergy across a multinational, multigenerational user base in an increasingly digitalized world: Be space.

Victor Glover and Nujoud Merancy (photo by John Anderson)

The SXSW Interactive panel, Next for NASA: The Journey to Mars, was at capacity, which charmed panelist and astronaut Victor Glover. “It’s beautiful outside,” said Glover. “Oh, and by the way, that’s Austin out there. But we’re all inside so we can talk about Mars. That’s awesome.” He’s right, and the panel was awesome too. It detailed the current state of NASA’s effort to reach Mars featuring insights from NASA team members/American heroes: Chris Crumbly (Spacecraft/Payload Integration and Evolution manager), Nujoud Merancy (Orion Mission Planning lead), Yves Lamothe (lead systems engineer for the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program), Jessica Meir (astronaut), and Victor Glover (astronaut/commander, U.S. Navy). After a short presentation on American and international efforts related to the Orion spacecraft (a craft that should soon take a crew of four past Earth's orbit), the panelists turned the bulk of the session over for Q&A. They also answered the billion-dollar question: When will we go to Mars? Here’s the short answer:

“Orion is the first piece of the journey to Mars,” said Merancy, who holds the reins on the Orion project. “I hope you heard, we had a test flight just over a year ago that was wildly successful. On that test flight we tested the crew module,” she said. “That is where a crew of four will survive for 21 days. So it’s basically a small habitat.” Before using its technology on any Mars trips, NASA will send it to the moon. “In 2018 will be the first [lunar trip] without crew,” she said. “In the 2020/2021 time frame we’re actually going to send a crew up.”

While the pieces for those lunar trips are currently under construction, NASA doesn’t have a specific mission to Mars right now. To step from the moon to Mars requires the learnings from the upcoming lunar missions and continued congressional and international help, which is where we come in! “The shuttle could touch people’s heart,” said Glover. “People watched launches and tears ran down their faces, and then their kids would go jump into an encyclopedia or look online and read about rocket science. That’s power,” he said, and that’s the kind of passion NASA needs for big missions, like Mars. “We work for the public,” said Glover. “The vision of NASA is to reveal the unknown for the benefit of all humankind.” We have to ensure that message doesn’t fade. Or, as Lamothe put it: “Go tell your friends NASA is awesome.” (And maybe your congressmen too.)

The panel concluded to a standing ovation. Lines for additional questions, photos, and handshakes half the length of the room then formed.

Next for NASA: The Journey to Mars

Tuesday, March 15, Austin Convention Center

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SXSW, SXSW Interactive 2016, NASA, Victor Glover, Mars, Chris Crumbly, Nujoud Merancy, Yves Lamothe, Jessica Meir

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