The WeMartians Blog

Other items of interest from the fourth planet

Welcome to part 3 of our saga to build a new podcast studio! In September I shared part 1 and part 2, covering some of the paint choices and digging into baseboards and trim! It’s been a busy few weeks for me including three conferences and two out of town trips, so I’m a bit behind. Nonetheless, I’m catching up and can share some progress on wire management and some work on our big window!

Wiring in some Cat6 Cabling

I use a Google Wi-Fi mesh network in my home, but for some reason the access point in this office, which is wired into the modem, could not penetrate the floor and reach the living room below very well. So sitting on the couch with an iPad, streaming anything to the TV, or just working on a laptop in the dining room adjacent had really spotty wireless internet. While we had the whole office torn apart, we decided to run some Cat6 cables up the fireplace trunk to provide a wired connection to the access point downstairs. It was quite the challenge.

First in this process was to ensure that we could actually find a path for the Cat6 cabling. I knew there was a gap there for the vent on the gas fireplace and the drain for the washrooms upstairs. My hunch was that this trunk was the backbone of the entire house for electrical, plumbing and ventilation, so there was probably room for two cables.

 

I cut two small holes first. I wanted to keep them below where I knew the baseboard would go to avoid patching. But wow did it make it difficult to navigate. For starters, the bulkhead didn’t line up exactly with the one downstairs so I “missed” by about 8 inches. Inside there were some vents, but also a metal plate to seal the gap between floors. Luckily, there was also a small, 4 inch piece of drywall that had been used to cover one tiny part missing. It felt like corner cutting to me, but I took advantage of it and slipped the cables down in it. But then I had the problem of working downstairs.

So then it was time to route the cabling into its final resting place. Upstairs, I didn’t want to run it through all the studs along the wall, so since I had the baseboard off I cheated and used the gap between the floor and the wall, plus the space under the drywall, to fulfill my needs. Then I wired the two cables into a jack!

Downstairs, I repeated the same thing behind the TV.

New Baseboard Heaters

If you remember from the before shots, there was this original, twenty-year old baseboard heater that had basically been painted in to the wall. We of course tore it out.

This is the east-facing wall. The studio desk will go along this wall, and the monitor setup in the right-hand corner. The room has a beautiful deep window working for it here, and a spot for a nice baseboard heater to warm my feet in the cold Canadian winter (current one is old and bad).

And so we went to work replacing it. By this time we’ve pulled all the baseboards off and removed the old heater.

Dressing the Window

I’m super excited about the big window in the office. It is about 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall, and it’s 9 inches deep, which is perfect for putting cats on.

But then it was on the actual plan. I want this window to pop. I want it to be a feature of the room. I want it to be that bright Humanity Star that blots out your astronomical observations and makes you so mad about how cool it is. My wife had a great idea.

And so off to Home Depot we went. We wanted to put some natural wood feel into the room, since so far it was pretty stark, clinical and monochrome. There would be an eventual tie-in with the desk, too.

Back home it was time to install the plywood!

Because the plywood is so thin it doesn’t interrupt the function of the window or intrude too much into the space of the window sill. But it adds a little bit of life and accent to the feature. To do the rest, the old gross blinds had to come out.

Here’s a shot with the whole window done with the plywood/veneer framing, and the old blinds dead and gone. We’ve also got all the painting done in this photo, though there is still some cutting in to do on the ceiling.

Then, it was time to replace those blinds!

 

Moving on!

That’s for this week. I’m attacking some of the last “constructiony” parts next, and then we can move on in to the really cool space-parts, like decorations and such! Stay tuned!

 

A couple of weeks ago I began sharing a new story; it’s not one about a Mars mission update or a science paper result, but one about a renovation project at a new home I just bought. I’m building a new studio, and I want you, the listeners, to see the progress!

In Part 1, I shared the before shots of the studio and walked through the paint choices. Plus, I replaced the light fixture with a new fan equipped with Philips Hue colour smart lights. Today, I’ll share some updates on the trim, the door frame, and the first piece of furniture.


Baseboards and Door Frames

First, we had some cutting in to do on the paint where the darker accent wall meets the white side walls. I love a clean line.

Then it was on to the trim. If you remember last update, this room (and whole house) has some pretty dated-looking finishing. So we tore it out.

Look at this monstrosity. It was not in great shape, either. The wood was really soft and covered in layers of paint.

The plan is to replace all the baseboards, quarter round, and the door frame, which is where we started. A new thing we’re trying is building a really simple plinth the base of the door frame to give it a little bit of interest. It’s just a wider section of the door frame that’s also taller than the baseboard.

To do all of the trim, I got to use my new chop saw. I got a great deal at Home Depot that included the stand for free, which is a big upgrade for me. I’m accustomed to using these on the floor or a makeshift table. I should probably be wearing safety goggles. Do as I say, not as I do.

So then we framed out the door!

If you ever do baseboards, even just a little, I highly recommend getting a nail gun and compressor. It is seriously a game-changer. Nothing is worse than having to hammer all the nails and then get a tapper to set them in. It’s easier, its faster and it makes my life better.

We laid the rest of the baseboard and then started on the quarter round. We had to add this last piece to extend the baseboard from the wall, as the expansion gap that they left on the floor when they installed it was pretty wide.

This photo gives you a good idea of the expansion gap and why we needed the quarter round.

Finishing touches

The next steps involve using filler to putty up the gaps between the baseboards, the wall and themselves. It’s a bit time-consuming and I don’t have great patience for it so my wife usually handles this part (she is really meticulous and detail-oriented). So I don’t have any photos of this step.

But then you get to paint. We used the exact same paint colour as the white walls, but for the trim we used a different finish. The walls are an eggshell, which is very matte, and the trim is a satin. It’s kind of one step up in glossy-ness. We used semi-gloss in our last house and it was a bit too shiny so we’re toning it down this time.

Here’s a look at the finished product with trim, putty and paint done.

Since the trim is lighter, we over-painted it on the accent wall. Then, we tape the trim and paint the straight line back in the Off-Nominal grey.

The end process lets you have this super-satisfying tape removal moment.

More Electrical!

Also included in this update – some more switch and receptacle changes!

Furniture!

Lastly, we added some furniture. My in-laws are visiting this week so we had to rush and do one half of the room just so we could put the bed down. It’s kind of silly looking but I like to call it parallel development.

It’s an IKEA day-bed that converts into a King-sized bed. Super handy for an office that has to double as a spare room. I also hope it will play a big role in dampening sound that might be echoing off the floors and walls for the podcast.

That’s it for this week! Next, we need to finish all the painting and trim (including the closet) and start thinking about installing the desk, which will be a pretty big, built-in system. But I’ll leave you with one more picture. It’s what I’m considering for the new podcasting chair! What do you think?

It kind of reminds me of the chair that the flight director sits in at ESA’s European Spacecraft Operations Centre in Darmstadt, since it’s so tall. Here’s Michel Denis, who was in charge when ExoMars entered orbit around Mars. Like, it’s a tower.

Ad ares, Martians!

This summer has been an incredibly challenging one for me personally. In May, my wife and I made a sudden decision to sell our home and move to a new one. We found a good deal and jumped on it, but it required us to do some serious renovation work on our old place in order to sell it. At the same time, I was promoted at my main job which demanded a lot of my time, and I had a vacation planned in there, too. Needless to say, it caused a lot of disruption in my life, and this has certainly caused some disruption in the podcast’s life, too! So thank you for your patience as I get through it.

The worst of it is behind me now as I sit in my new living room writing this update. The benefit to you, the listener, is that I am finally investing in a new studio at the new place. I’ve decided to chronicle the renovation project that will become Off-Nominal Studio West and share a little bit of meta-content with you, since you’ve all been so gracious in forgiving this long stretch of silence through the summer. I hope the new space-themed office/studio is something really cool and a great place to hang out, so that I am inspired to keep producing great content for all you Martians out there.

We’ve had possession of our place for about a week now, and here’s what I’ve been able to get started!


The “Before”

No good reno project is complete without a look at the room before it is altered. Here’s the room before I made any changes.

The Good

All in all, it has some great bones to work with:

  • Laminate floors in really great shape. Maybe not the best choice for sound recording, but I have some plans for that
  • Size is great, about 110 square feet, or 10.2 square metres (not including the closet)
  • Window provides a lot of light

But it sure has some opportunities, too!

The Bad

Key things I need to fix to make this the space I want include:

  • Paint! The terrible baby blue needs to go
  • The trim is really dated and not in great shape
  • The light fixture is terrible
  • The outlets, switches and receptacles are all original (1999) and have that awful yellow colour and are covered in paint from different renos through the years

Design Goals

My hope for this reno is to accomplish the following:

  1. Create a modern-looking workspace that I enjoy spending time in
  2. Surround myself with awesome space stuff
  3. Optimize the space for sound-recording
  4. Add a little branding to set it up for possible future video productions

So let’s take a look at the first week’s accomplishments!

Prep

The trim in this room (and the rest of the house if I’m being honest) is really dated looking. It has this curvy design that reminds me of what was considered a cheap imitation of high class, thirty years ago.

The room also had a lot of really old receptacles, switches and outlets that needed to go.

Once it was all stripped out, it was time to paint!

Paint

I’m fortunate to be married to someone who is an amateur interior designer. She helped me find some inspiration images that captured some of the ideas I had. I really wanted a black and white style colour scheme, with an accent wall, something like this image:

As we started to narrow down the colours she had a brain wave. Why not leverage some of the colours of the branding for Off-Nominal? My co-host and podcast partner Anthony from Main Engine Cut Off made this beautiful mission patch/podcast logo for our partner project, Off Nominal, and it seemed a perfect fit for what I was doing. In fact, I decided to brand the whole studio with Off-Nominal to give it some broader scope (but don’t worry, there’ll be lots of Mars accents).

Sherwin Williams makes a really cool colour matching app called ColorSnap which lets you look at images and then it spits out the colour name to take to the paint store. Here’s the app in action on an iPhone:

Since the colour was really dark, we chose a high quality paint that would minimize coats required. If you’re in Canada, you can get it at Canadian Tire and it’s called Premier Infinity. We chose a flat finish to minimize glare (matte is so in right now, or so my wife tells me).

Then we got to work! The paint was delightfully thick and dark, which felt really satisfying dunking a fresh roller in to!

We decided to do just one accent wall (like the inspiration photo) but also added the ceiling. It simulates having real space above me!

The Light Fixture

Next we had to tackle the awful light fixture in the room. This room is three stories up so it gets hot in the summer, so we decided to get a ceiling fan. My wife found a great dark-coloured Windward one that will kind of blend in to the ceiling and create a sort of stealth effect. She likes it ’cause it matches, I like it ’cause it lets me imagine the light is just a star blazing in the galaxy.

Check out this stealth mode!

To make it even better, I installed Philips Hue full colour bulbs inside of it. This will let me alter the colour and make different scenes, fully controllable via apps on my devices or voice command through Google Home. So whether I want a red dwarf or a pulsar above me, I can create the ambiance I want.

That’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed what will probably be a many-part series as I move towards a finished product. Ad ares, Martians!

It’s August, and that means it’s time to get ready for the new school year. Show up on campus in style with a WeMartians design, and help support an independent podcast at the same time! This is the biggest sale we’ve ever put on, so take advantage now by visiting the WeMartians Shop!

Free Shipping on Orders of 2+ Items!

Until September 9th, get free shipping on any order of 2 items or more! Make sure you use code WMBTS to take advantage of this deal. This has the potential to save you $5 or more on your order! Best of all, it’s combinable with all the other deals we have on this month, too!

Featured Sale: Falcon Heavy TWENTYSEVEN Design

A WeMartians best-seller, the TWENTYSEVEN design is on sale, including both the tee (available in mens and womens cuts) and the unisex sweater. Save $2 on the tees and $4 on the sweaters until September 9th. Order both and get free shipping.

Save Big on Clearance Products

We’ve got big plans for new designs in the Fall, so we’re giving one last chance to pick up these two tees at a discounted rate. Explore Gale Crater with CURIOSITY SOON or inspect the whole planet at 30cm resolution with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s CREEPIN‘. Both designs are $4 off, our lowest rate for premium designs.

All Other Premium Designs on Sale

The rest of our designs are on sale, too! Save $2 on the Opportunity Rover EXTRA NOMINAL design, the InSight GOOD VIBES design, or the SpaceX BRB GOING TO MARS design.

Logos, too!

You can also pick up a WeMartians Logo shirt, at their permanent low low price of $14.

April has been an interesting month for me. Super busy and kind of a heads-down approach to get ready for the InSight launch coming up this weekend. Trips like that are only possible because of the support of our patrons on Patreon, so if that’s you – thanks!

We’re pushing forward with our plans to roll out the WeMartians travel grant. It’s an opportunity for the WeMartians community to give back to the STEM community by funding students to travel to conferences. Last month we visited the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference this month and have seen first-hand how beneficial it can be. You can read more about our ideas for the grant in our recent explainer post. But to get there, we need your help!

Thanks to all the Patrons who’ve pledged support already, especially our Station-Level and higher donors. We’re already 79% of the way to our goal of $450/month to kick off the WeMartians Travel Grant. This is so close! I would love to see this goal reached by the summer time so that we can get this project moving!

Click here to support WeMartians on Patreon

Patreon Highlights

  • Red Planet Review (4 episodes) – Our new series continued through April with 4 more episodes. Red Planet Review highlights this month are chalk full of spacecraft updates, from ExoMars reaching its final science orbit and returning its first data, to Mars Express software updates and upcoming rover milestones. Plus, Curiosity leaves Vera Rubin Ridge and Opportunity busts out its Rock Abrasion Tool for the first time in around 300 sols. It’s for our Lander-level patrons ($3+/month), but the first episode was published for free if you’d like to try it out!
  • Listener Questions: Episode 40 (Mars One Waning feat. Ryan MacDonald) – Patrons Joost and Bradley helped out our interview with Ryan by submitting questions on the topic ahead of time. In fact, all the Patrons over in the Discord (see below) provided a lot of guidance in helping shape this unique episode (so thanks)!
  • Discord Highlights – Over on the Off-Nominal Discord, our Rover-level ($5+) patrons continued to share in all kinds of great discussions. There has been a lot of excitement over the upcoming InSight launch, and we also had a tremendous discussion about the use of the word “Colonization” when exploring Mars. We hosted a live recording of Off-Nominal 7, and welcomed Tanya Harrison, planetary scientist and our guest for that episode, into the chat. It’s an incredible community you must check out. More on it here.
  • Shop Discounts – Some of our members enjoyed their permanent discounts on the WeMartians Shop by contributing at the Station, Excursion and Base Levels! Perfect for picking up our new Good Vibes Shirt (celebrating the launch of InSight) and our Falcon Heavy Sweater design!

Don’t miss out on these perks! Become a patron today!

 

Well Martians, we’re down to the final week! NASA’s InSight mission to Mars lifts off early Saturday morning and we’re travelling down to watch the event and cover it for you. Here’s what you can expect over the next week!

Twitter Previews

Beginning today, there’s an extensive Twitter preview of the mission happening over on our feed. Each day until Friday, we’re covering aspects of the mission in a shareable Twitter-thread format.

  • Monday (April 30th) – Why InSight? Science Objectives
  • Tuesday (May 1st) – History of the Mission
  • Wednesday (May 2nd) – The Spacecraft
  • Thursday (May 3rd) – The Science Instruments
  • Friday (May 4th) – The Rocket & the Launch

Pre-Launch Briefing

At 1PM PDT/4PM EDT on May 3rd, NASA will hold a Pre-Launch Briefing that we will be covering over Twitter. The briefing will be live-streamed on NASA TV.

Launch Day

InSight launches at 4:05AM PDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base. We’ll be in Lompoc, California outside the base looking for the best place to view the launch from. It becomes tricky balancing the desire to be close, but the desire to be high enough to avoid the infamous Vandenberg Marine Layer fog, which often blankets the area and can block your view of the rocket.

Once we find a spot we’ll be sure to do some Periscoping on Twitter!

ULA’s Space Launch Complex 3E, where InSight will lift off from on an Atlas V rocket on May 5th.

The Podcast

Episode 41 will cover the story of InSight, from its humble beginnings, through it’s launch. We’re completing research this week, collecting audio on-site, and producing the episode early next week. Look for it in the WeMartians feed as early as Wednesday the 9th of May!

Patreon Perks

If you’re one of our Patreon Supporters, I’m going to be making an attempt to use Patreon’s new Lens feature to provide live video updates through the trip. This will be a nice low-overhead way for me to give you some closer looks at what’s going on.

I’ll be in the Off-Nominal Discord on Thursday for the Pre-Launch Briefing. You’ll also get at least one audio update with some early thoughts on the launch which I hope to get up quickly. I’ve also got some other goodies in store for you.

Get Up To Speed!

If you are behind on the mission, here are some resources to get you started.

 

 

Support WeMartians!

Trips like this are not free! Thanks to support from our Patrons, we’re able to travel down to launch events like this and provide on-site coverage. You can join this amazing community by helping out as well.

  • If you love the podcast, consider becoming a Patron! For as little as $1/month you can make more trips like this happen.
  • If you’re more of a casual fan, we also have some great InSight T-Shirts available for purchase!
The InSight Good Vibes premium T-Shirt design from WeMartians.

The InSight Good Vibes premium T-Shirt design from WeMartians.

Periodically, scientific discoveries at Mars prompt new thinking and paradigm shifts in the way we perceive the Red Planet. If these changes are significant enough, it merits an adjustment to our strategy when we explore. One such topic up for discussion is the importance of Mars polar science, or the study of the poles. The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group discussed this at their committee meeting last week in Crystal City, Virginia.

Side note: we also discussed the MEPAG meeting in our most recent episode of Red Planet Review. It’s a weekly podcast available for our $3+ patrons discussing Mars headlines. Listen to the sample episode here or follow the link below to pledge support!

Support WeMartians on Patreon

Who or what is MEPAG?

MEPAG (or Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group) is a community-led committee that informally advises NASA on scientific goals for the exploration of Mars. The community maintains a goals document, which is a summary of the questions that are high priority for investigations. MEPAG forwards this document to the formal NASA advisory bodies or departments, like the Mars Exploration Program, the Planetary Science Advisory Committee or even the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Really, it’s main goal is to ensure the Planetary Science community has a say in what NASA does next at Mars. Here are the four major components of the current goals document.

  1. Determine if Mars ever supported life
  2. Understand the processes and history of climate on Mars
  3. Understand the origin and evolution of Mars as geological system
  4. Prepare for human exploration

The four primary goals of Mars Exploration, as outlined by MEPAG

What’s prompting a change to these goals?

In late 2016, the Lunar and Planetary Institute (the same body which organizes LPSC) hosted the Sixth International Conference on Mars Polar Science and Exploration in Reykjavik, Iceland. Scientists from different disciplines studying both Earth and Mars joined forces to share current results, outstanding questions, and future priorities. One hundred and two highly engaged attendees from 11 countries participated. It became clear that Mars Polar Science was both very important not well represented in NASA’s current goals and objectives. So, the community sought to change that.

Early in 2017, the community published a report that was a summary of the conference and a presentation of five main scientific questions that the Polar science community wants answers for. This was the first step in instituting change in the scientific direction of NASA’s Mars program.

Why is polar science important?

Planetary scientists sometimes overlook polar science. It’s part geology and part climate, which makes it challenging to study by someone from only one discipline. However, this dual-nature also makes it especially important to study because it has such global reach in the formation of today’s Mars.

Every year, when the poles are in their winter season and fully enveloped in darkness, upwards of 30% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere condenses on the surface, forming metre-thick layers of frost. In the summer, it sublimates back in to the atmosphere and the cycle repeats. That’s a dramatic amount of change for Mars’ atmosphere. With it comes a multitude of planetary wide changes, including cloud formations, dust movement and temperature changes. This movement of CO2 drives the Martian climate.

Each seasonal cycle leaves a layer of dust and debris on the layered deposits of the poles, preserving a record of the past seasons like rings in a tree trunk. The data in the layers of the poles are invaluable in understanding Mars’ past climate. These data can then be correlated with the geologic record to understand and confirm theories on how the planets features were formed. We might think, for example, that a certain feature on Mars could be formed if temperatures were sufficiently high, but have no way to confirm that geologically. Climate studies help geology and vice versa.

From the summary report:

The poles are a record of past climate, and polar processes drive current climate. The poles influence movement of sand in dunes, dust in the atmosphere, isotopic ratios, availability of volatiles, melting point and stability of liquid water – through time.

A view of the North Polar Layer Deposit. Like rings in a tree, these layers tell a story of past climate. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

What’s next?

The committee has taken the report from the Polar Science Conference and incorporated them into a proposal to change MEPAG’s goals document. This is a great step and the final proposal will be available this summer. A public consultation period will be available prior to finalization. But what does this mean for actual Mars exploration?

You won’t see some kind of polar lander dropping down into Chasma Boreale next launch window. These changes take a long time to propagate through the NASA system. Changes to this document may inform next year’s budget requests for NASA that could theoretically have impacts on funding for current or future missions. But chances are it will have little impact there.

Next year, the 9th International Conference on Mars is being held in Pasadena. It’s an important gathering of Mars scientists that often drives changes to MEPAG’s goals document as well. So, expect to see another revision following that meeting. From there, MEPAG will forward the goals document to the Planetary Science Decadal Survey committee, which formally kicks off in 2020. That’s where a major impact can be made. The Decadal Survey is (as its name implies), a once in a decade guiding document formally requested by NASA to inform its planetary science agenda. The current one expires in 2023. If Mars polar science is as important as its community believes, then maybe we’ll see it codified in the Decadal Survey. If it is, then perhaps we’ll see more missions focused on exploring the amazing and beautiful poles of Mars.


Get some Mars swag and help a podcast out

You can also support WeMartians by picking up a sweet Mars T-Shirt in our online shop. So, why not creep on the Mars poles yourself with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Creepin’ design? Or, check out the vintage Californian-style InSight tee Good Vibes, which you can still get before it’s May 5th launch if you order today.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: Creepin’

NASA InSight: Good Vibes

What a fantastic March for Patreon. We’re pushing forward with our plans to roll out the WeMartians travel grant. It’s an opportunity for the WeMartians community to give back to the STEM community by funding students to travel to conferences. We visited the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference this month and have seen first-hand how beneficial it can be. You can read more about our ideas for the grant in our recent explainer post. But to get there, we need your help!

Thanks to all the Patrons who’ve pledged support already, especially our Station-Level and higher donors. We’re already 75% of the way to our goal of $450/month to kick off the WeMartians Travel Grant. This is so close! I would love to see this goal reached by the summer time so that we can get this project moving!

Click here to support WeMartians on Patreon

Patreon Highlights

  • Red Planet Review (4 episodes) – Our new series continued through March with 4 more episodes. Red Planet Review highlights this month include the ups and downs of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Curiosity’s drill back in action, news about SpaceX’s developments at Boca Chica and the Port of LA, and updates on InSight, Mars2020 and China’s Mars probe. It’s for our Lander-level patrons ($3+/month), but the first episode was published for free if you’d like to try it out!
  • Bonus Content: Episode 38 (AMDEE18 with Sophie Gruber and Rienhard Tlustos) – Reinhard and Sophie talk about two special projects during the AMADEE18 Mars Analogue. The first is about a vertical farming project, and the second is 3D-printing experiment.
  • Bonus Content: Episode 39 (LPSC2018) – We get another few minutes of Catheryn Ryan talking about the science instruments she uses to analyze the samples from the NASA BASALT project. In addition, Jake provided three updates throughout LPSC talking about interesting talks and posters, NASA Night, Apollo 17 and more.
  • Discord Highlights – Over on the Off-Nominal Discord, our Rover-level ($5+) patrons continued to share in all kinds of great discussions. We’ve hosted launch parties, discussions on planetary exploration, and a new History thread to learn and discuss space events in our past. We hosted a live recording of Off-Nominal 6, and welcome Brendan Byrne, our guest for that episode and host of the Are We There Yet Podcast, into the chat. It’s an incredible community you must check out. More on it here.
  • Shop Discounts – Some of our members enjoyed their permanent discounts on the WeMartians Shop by contributing at the Station, Excursion and Base Levels! Perfect for picking up our new Good Vibes Shirt (celebrating the launch of InSight) and our Falcon Heavy Sweater design!

Don’t miss out on these perks! Become a patron today!

 

 

NASA is launching the InSight mission to Mars early in the morning on May 5th, 2018. That’s soon! So we’re ramping up coverage of the spacecraft as the launch nears. Plus, we’ve got an exciting new T-Shirt in our shop to celebrate the start of the mission. But first, what is the InSight mission all about?

Gaining InSights into Mars’ interior

InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It’s the first spacecraft that will primarily measure what’s happening inside the planet Mars rather than what’s shaping its surface. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery program, the smallest of the three classes of planetary missions the agency funds.

To accomplish its mission. InSight will use two primary instruments. The first is SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure). It’s a super-sensitive seismometre that InSight will place directly on the surface using its robotic arm. When we say “super-sensitive”, we mean it. The instrument will detect earthquakes (or should we call them marsquakes?) all over the planet. In fact, it’s so sensitive that it will detect the gravity of Mars’ moon Phobos tugging on the surface as it orbits around Mars. In a Von Karman lecture at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the principal investigator of the mission Bruce Banerdt said that in testing, SEIS could detect the waves crashing against the California coast. From Colorado. France’s space agency CNES contributed the instrument.

The SEIS instrument on the ground and covered by wind guard.

The SEIS instrument on the ground and covered by wind guard. JPLer’s sweet kicks for scale. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The other major instrument is HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package). This fascinating little probe is a self-penetrating spike connected by a long tether. The probe has a spring loaded hammer inside which allows it to slowly burrow downward into the regolith, as deep as five metres. Along its tether are temperature sensors that will allow it to measure the heat escaping from the planet’s core. Like SEIS, InSight’s robotic arm will deploy HP3 directly on the surface. Germany’s space agency DLR contributed the instrument.

The HP3 Instrument, with the structure on the ground (top) and the self-burrowing mole going downward. (DLR)

Other Instruments

InSight has a number of additional instruments to help with its mission as well. You can read more about them on the Wikipedia page. I would also recommend you listen in to our interview with Farah Alibay, a Payload Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who explained how these instruments were integrated into the spacecraft and what kinds of things they can accomplish.

Farah Alibay, NASA JPL Payload Systems Engineer and the InSight spacecraft.

How will InSight get to Mars?

InSight is launching from Earth onboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket in the 401 configuration. That means it has a 4-metre fairing, 0 solid rocket boosters, and 1 Centaur upper stage engine. Here’s a breakout of the spacecraft and the rocket components in an exploded view.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in the 401 configuration, with the NASA InSight spacecraft

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket in the 401 configuration, with the NASA InSight spacecraft

InSight’s launch is scheduled for May 5th, 2018 at 04:05 AM PDT (11:05 UTC). It’s lifting off from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the West coast of the United States, in California. This is the very first launch of a planetary mission from Vandenberg. Normally, these missions fly from Florida to take advantage of the speed boost from launching due East. But InSight is a relatively light spacecraft and the Atlas V is a mighty rocket which can make up for that advantage, and so to avoid congestion at Kennedy Space Centre, it’s heading south from the California coast. If the skies are clear and you get up really early, you might be able to see the rocket from Los Angeles or even as far South as San Diego. If not, you can watch the stream on JPL’s YouTube channel.

Should there be any issues with the launch, the window extends for two hours, giving the opportunity to recycle the countdown and try more than once. Even if the window is exceeded on May 5th, they can try again every day at roughly the same time until as late as June 8th. Once the rocket lifts off, it will go through a nominal sequence to enter an Earth parking orbit before heading off on an interplanetary trajectory. The first stage and the protective aerodynamic fairings will fall in to the ocean, and the second stage (Centaur) will take InSight off in to deep space. It’ll be quite a ride.

The InSight Atlas V launch sequence. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

MarCO A and B

After InSight separates from the Centaur upper stage, two smaller spacecraft called cubesats will deploy from something called the Centaur Aft Bulkhead Carrier (ABC). The ABCs are two small compartments underneath the stage next to the engine. Here’s a diagram to show you where they are stowed.

Atlas V rocket carrying InSight. The Centaur upper stage is circled. At its base, surrounding the engines, are the Aft Bulkhead Carriers, where MarCO A and B are stowed. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

These cubesats, called MarCO A and B, will travel independently to Mars. It’s kind of like formation flying, though the spacecraft will likely separate to large distances en route. Once everyone arrives in November, the MarCO sats will act as relay satellites, sending data from the InSight lander directly back to Earth. MarCO is an experiment to see if cubesats can play an important role in planetary exploration, and it helps takes the load off the lander and the existing orbiters at Mars.

The twin MarCO cubesats, illustrated relaying the data from the InSight lander as it descends to the surface of Mars.

The twin MarCO cubesats, illustrated relaying the data from the InSight lander as it descends to the surface of Mars. (JPL/Caltech)

WeMartians Coverage of InSight

Jake is heading down to California for the launch. We’re still awaiting confirmation of media credentials but he will provide live coverage through Twitter either way. An episode covering the launch event will air the following week in our normal podcast feed.

Travel to events like this is not cheap. It’s made possible thanks to the generous contributions of the WeMartians Patrons over on Patreon. There, they pledge as little as $1/month to gain access to bonus content, our Red Planet Review podcast, advance notice of interviews and the Off-Nominal Discord. It’s a great way to support an independent podcast, and if you pledge now you’ll be ready to access additional content for the InSight launch.

Pledge $1 or more to WeMartians on Patreon to get InSight bonus content

But, if pledging isn’t your thing, though, read on!

Introducing the InSight Launch T-Shirt!

Another way to support WeMartians is by visiting our shop for great Mars apparel. Today we’re launching a special new T-Shirt to celebrate the InSight launch, the first interplanetary launch from California. We tried to capture the feel of the Golden State in this vintage design as well as some real science. The wavelength at the bottom of the logo is the typical result of an earthquake on a seismometre, with the p-wave, s-wave and surface waves visible in a row.

Order now to ensure you get your shirt in time for the launch! And don’t worry, we have different colours and sizes in men’s and women’s cuts.

The InSight Good Vibes premium T-Shirt design from WeMartians.

The InSight Good Vibes premium T-Shirt design from WeMartians. Order now to get it in time for the launch!

Summary

Obviously, we’re very excited for the InSight launch. Mars missions only come around every twenty-six months. So let us know if you’re going to come down for the launch as well or what your thoughts are. Remember, you can tweet or email us. Go Atlas, go Centaur, go InSight!

 

Late last year we announced our next Patreon goal would be $450/month. When we reach it, we’ll launch a new program called the WeMartians Travel Grant. Following that announcement I promised an in-depth look at my thought process for this grant and what it means to this community. This is that in-depth look.

The program can (and will) change between now and when it formally launches. It’s a work in progress. But I’m a big fan of transparency, especially when it comes to handling money from our listeners. So this is my way of sharing my thoughts and soliciting feedback!

But before we begin…

None of this will matter if we never achieve the goal. We’re sitting a little over 1$100/month short as of this writing. That’s not that much considering the listenership of this show! So if you haven’t signed up to be a patron, this is a great time to think about it. We’ve even done some blog posts to really explain the benefits of the Orbiter Level ($1), Lander Level ($3) and Rover Level ($5). And if you’re feeling really generous, we have $10-$25 levels that give you discounts in our store, a presence on our donor page, and more. So pledge today and help us help a student travel to a conference.

Support WeMartians on Patreon and help a student travel to a conference

Why do this?

Jake with past guest Tanya Harrison at last year’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2017

Most of the episodes you’ve heard on the podcast have been long form interviews with scientists, engineers, & communicators. We have not compensated these guests for their time; they are generous people who want to share their work with the world. These acts represent a culture in space of sharing and teaching, a culture I am deeply grateful for, and one I want to pay forward.

As the WeMartians community continues to grow, I want to make sure that our collective values are something we can be proud of. Supporting the next generation of STEM professionals as they communicate their work is completely in line with this project’s mission statement: to engage the public in the exploration of Mars in a simple, fun, educational and inspiring way. Most importantly, it’s a way for us to invest in the future of Mars exploration. The astronauts who first walk on Mars, whether they be geologists, mechanical engineers, doctors or pilots, may well be studying today.

Why a Travel Grant?

Other ideas considered were simple scholarships or bursaries, but I made the ultimate decision to specifically fund travel for a number of reasons. First, travel to conferences is expensive. I know this first-hand now thanks to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. Hotels book up quick, rates are artificially inflated, and registration fees can be high (in the hundreds to even thousands). Throw in meal expenses and it becomes a work week that costs as much as a vacation. If you’re travelling internationally this can be even worse.

The poster session of the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

Second, in developping this grant, I spoke with some industry professionals and students and learned a lot. Often, grants do not cover conference travel, and many supervisors do not have extra cash to include it. Facing competing priorities of lab work & equipment, fieldwork and you know, salary, travel is often left out.

And here’s the thing. Conference travel is about sharing, networking, and expanding your horizons. Students attending learn valuable skills in connecting with others and presenting their work. What could be more appropriate for a podcast than to fund others communicating their science?

Who would be eligible?

For the first year at least, I’d like to cast a broad net. We welcome undergrads, masters students, PhD students and even post-docs. As long as you’re studying at an accredited post-secondary institution, you’d be eligible.

But what about the topic of your study? Again, the net will be broad. We only stipulate that your field is connected to Mars exploration. This could be directly or indirectly. For science majors, we might fund students studying planetary science, astronomy, astrobiology, geology, space medicine or more. For engineers, we might select students working on developing technology that helps people or robots launch, travel to, communicate back from, or directly observe Mars. This could include propulsion engineers, life support technicians, and instrumentation experts.

The application will ask that you show how your work furthers our understanding of Mars. That’s it!

What about different demographics? Will there be preferences for one over the other?

WeMartians is committed to representing and supporting people from all demographics. Students of any nationality, culture, gender identity, sexuality, religion, ability or ethnicity are welcome and encouraged to apply.

Selections will not be awarded based solely on demographics. However, WeMartians is committed to levelling the playing field by supporting underrepresented groups. Preference will be given to applicants who can demonstrate financial hardship or who are or have been disadvantaged by current or past bias.

Any other special skills?

Science communication inspired this grant. Therefore, applicants who can demonstrate public engagement efforts will earn preference. Whether through public talks, instagram accounts, sciart or community volunteering, we love hearing about your work to engage the public with STEM.

The WeMartians Podcast will offer an episode slot to all awardees to talk about their work and their experience.

How much is the grant?

The final grant amount is still unknown and will probably change year to year based on available funds. WeMartians is entirely listener-supported. Disposable income changes year to year depending on travel schedules, hosting expenses, and equipment needs. In the first two years of the show, WeMartians operated at a loss, which I personally cover.

Once we reach our goal of $450/month, we will also initiate a special limited edition T-Shirt sale with a special design. All proceeds will contribute to the grant. Depending on the speed at which we reach our goal and the volume of shirt sales, the grant amount will change. It is my wish to be able to award at least $500 USD but it is possible it could be more. If the available funds are extraordinary we will also consider breaking up the grant and making multiple awards.

So what’s next?

We’re continuing our drive to $450. This week, we’re at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston live-tweeting and blogging all kinds of Mars science. We’ll be interviewing people to hear about their work. And we’ll be making podcasts all about it. If that content is valuable to you, lend a hand and pledge on Patreon or pick up a sweet t-shirt in our shop.

We’d love to hear your feedback on the grant. Make a comment below, tweet us, or send us an email. We’ve done our best to solicit feedback from students and professionals, but at the end of the day academia is something we’re new at. So, we welcome any perspectives that might help make the grant or the selection process better.

Thanks for all your support. I cannot express how excited I am to bring this grant to life.

Six different T-Shirt designs for WeMartians

A selection of T-Shirt designs available on the newly launched WeMartians Shop