The WeMartians Blog

Other items of interest from the fourth planet

On Sunday, January 21st, a small company called Rocket Lab launched a brand new rocket and successfully placed their first payload into orbit. It was a picture-perfect launch that deployed small cubesat satellites from two private companies into space. Dubbed #StillTesting, the rocket also tried out a new upper kick stage motor, and deployed a bold experiment called the Humanity Star.

The Humanity Star

The Humanity Star is a 1-metre geodesic sphere designed to reflect light from the sun down to observers on Earth. It’s a bright object that people can track from the ground as it passes from North to South and back in its polar orbit. It’s meant to inspire us. From Eric Berger’s article in Ars Technica:

“The whole point of the program is to get everybody looking up at the star, but also past the star into the Universe, and reflect about the fact that we’re one species, on one planet,” Beck told Ars in an interview before the launch. “This is not necessarily part of the Rocket Lab program; it’s more of a personal program. It’s certainly consistent with our goal of trying to democratize space.”

RocketLab CEO Peter Beck standing next to the Humanity Star, a 1-metre geodesic sphere, on the coast.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck with the Humanity Star before its launch. Credit: Rocket Lab

Opposition and Support

Soon after the company announced that the payload had been deployed in to orbit, something began happening on Twitter. Astronomers began denouncing the “star”. They complained that it was adding to an already difficult problem with light pollution, and had the potential to ruin valuable observations from telescopes down on Earth. Meg Schwamb is a respected astronomer and also part of the Planet Four citizen science project, which we talked about extensively with Michael Aye back in episode 4.


Mike Brown is another well-known astronomer. He famously discovered the dwarf planet Eris, which eventually led to Pluto’s declassification as a planet. He also put forward the hypothesis (along with Konstantin Batygin) that there is another, actual planet nine hidden out in the farthest reaches of our solar system.


Miriam Kramer over at Mashable did a great job summarizing some of the reactions. Meanwhile, Rocket Lab defended the project. From the Otago Daily Times in New Zealand:

“The whole point is to get people talking as a planet and I think we’ve achieved that. If you’re going to do something big some people will love it and some people won’t love it and it’s all about sparking the conversation.”

Rocket Lab had been monitoring how people reacted to the launch of the Humanity Star. Beck said positive messages had exceeded negativity at a ratio of about nine to one.

“Although there are a few people that it doesn’t sparkle with them the vast majority of people are inspired. It’s just incredible to see how many people have been thinking and pondering about it.”

It seems that, on Twitter at least, you either love it or you hate it.

Polarizing Space

I’ve spoken before about topics revolving around the theme of polarizing space. In Episode 34, Laura Forczyk helped us sort through the pivot from Mars to the Moon, a perennial debate favourite among space geeks. I covered the same topic in an Off the Cuff episode (premium content for Patreon supporters paying $1/month or more) exactly 1 year ago today. SLS vs. Commercial Rockets is another great example (and another topic I covered in Off the Cuff), as is human vs robotic exploration, planetary protection (for or against), and of course, “New Space” vs. “Old Space”.

Hear all the “Off the Cuff” content and more by subscribing on Patreon for just $1/month

A lot of these arguments can be broken down to a really basic “change” vs. “don’t change”. Really, if you’re a pessimist, almost every argument in history is essentially that. But in the case of the Humanity Star, and a lot of the tribal space arguments, we’re really looking at a shift in who drives the conversation. Are the skies the domain of scientists, funded by governments and absent of profit motivations? Or are they the playground of the world’s elite? This tweet from Richard Easther, an astrophysicist from the University of Auckland, belies the undertone of the argument perfectly.

Rise of the Billionaires

Since the dawn of the space age, space exploration has been driven by governments. In the earliest years of geopolitical motivations driving the space race, it was governments going toe to toe. Since then, it’s been mostly the same. National agencies drive the agenda, remain the largest customers, and regulate the industry. But in the past couple decades, this has begun to change.

In 2004, Anousheh Ansari and her brother Amir made a multi-million dollar contribution to the X-PRIZE foundation, which held a competition for non-government agencies to put a spacecraft above the karman line twice in two weeks. The competition went to SpaceShipOne, a spaceplane which became the first private spacecraft to reach space. It’s pilot, Mike Melville, became the first private astronaut. Today, the heritage of the vehicle lives on through Virgin Galactic, another private organization headed by a wealthy man with cosmic ambitions, Richard Branson. Anousheh later went on to fly herself to the International Space Station as one of the first privately-funded astronauts.

The SpaceShipOne team and the X-PRIZE team stand in front of SpaceShipOne on the runway after landing.

Amir and Anousheh Ansari, Paul Allen, Peter Diamandis, Burt Rutan, and Richard Branson celebrate the SpaceShipOne flight. Credit: Jim Sugar

Of course, more such privately funded figures are today becoming not just spaceflight players, but household names. Elon Musk’s SpaceX put the first private liquid-fueled rocket, the Falcon 1, in to orbit in 2008. Since then they’ve pushed many boundaries. They were the first private company to launch, recover, and launch a spacecraft again (Dragon 1). They were the first to complete a propulsive landing of an orbital-class rocket (and then launch it again). They’ve become the highest volume launch organization in the world, putting 18 successful payloads in to orbit last year. That beat any other country, and accounts for roughly two thirds of all American launches that year.

Elon Musk isn’t the only one, either. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is silently and steadily building a rocket empire called Blue Origin to send tourists to space and later enter the commercial satellite market. He’s also following a reusable rocket strategy, one that promises to continue to drive down costs and democratize space access. Bob Richards of Moon Express seeks to put a lander on the moon. Peter Diamandis, Chris Lewicki and Eric Andersen want to mine asteroids with their company Planetary Resources. And of course, there’s Peter Beck, who just wants the world to look up at his Humanity Star and wonder.

Is this Good?

The “Billionaires of Space” have done a lot of good, to be sure. Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard rocket has provided opportunities for many small payloads to reach space, including projects from schools and universities. SpaceX has lowered the cost of access to space tremendously, charging NASA a third of what it would have to use the Shuttle to send cargo to space, returning all of its original investment, and driving economic activity in the United States instead of abroad. That’s of tremendous benefit to American taxpayers. Given how fast everything has been changing, we are probably only scratching the surface of what’s possible as these new players continue to disrupt an industry that has been stagnant for a long time.

But there are concerns as well. In a recent Planetary Radio episode, Mat Kaplan hosted a panel with Planetary Society staff Jason Davis, and our past guests Emily Lakdawalla and Casey Dreier. Casey brought up a wonderful point. Private investment in industry to the scale we’re seeing tends to happen in times of tremendous economic inequality. By definition, there needs to be a huge wealth gap between the richest and poorest among us to facilitate this kind of unencumbered spending by private individuals in to a specific pursuit. And if you think that isn’t true, I invite you to check out what SpaceX is launching next. I’m not here to discuss the nature of economic inequality or its solutions, but it is something that should be considered by anyone pondering which side to take in this.

A red Tesla roadster on a payload adapter surrounded by the Falcon Heavy fairings.

Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster being prepared for launch on the Falcon Heavy Rocket. Credit: SpaceX

Interestingly, this is not the first time this has happened in space exploration, either. Casey also interviewed Alex MacDonald on the Space Policy edition of Planetary Radio back in December. Dr. MacDonald wrote a book called “The Long Space Age” which tells the story of the surge of investment in private observatories in the United States in the 19th century. I recommend you listen in to hear the parallels between then and now.

Final Thoughts

We’re obviously in a time of change. The old guard of space is under pressure from a newer, younger perspective that wants to change things and make them their own. One only has to watch a United Launch Alliance webcast and a SpaceX one to see the difference. The days of control rooms filled with weathered Caucasian men in suits and military uniforms are fading. Those of control rooms filled with young, diverse engineers in jeans and t-shirts are swelling. They’re different. They cheer at stage separations, they share on Twitter, and they put weird space disco balls in to orbit. But that doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong.

As the Humanity Star coverage filled the airwaves this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about polarizing positions. Tribalism is a curious part of human nature, one that simultaneously offends me but that I also can’t help but sometimes get sucked in to. I come back to reminding myself, over and over, that space, like many debates in our time, is a complicated issue, and not one that can properly be dissected in a tweet (whether you have 140 or 280 characters).

It’s OK to be excited about the SLS rocket’s capabilities, while also being critical of its program management. It’s OK to cheer the landing of a SpaceX rocket, while also being concerned about the cult of personality around it’s founder. It’s OK to want to protect other planets from microbial life but also send people to explore them. And it’s OK to be delighted about a human-made artificial star, while also sympathizing with astronomers, whose valuable telescope time might be polluted by more light.

Space is for everyone. But for most of us watching from the sidelines, we’ll need to be happy being armchair administrators. That’s all fine, as long as we recognize that there are different perspectives, it isn’t black and white, and our diversity makes us stronger. If we’re going to Mars, I’d like it to be built on a stronger coalition than 50% +1.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Commercial Crew program this weekend. At a Wednesday hearing by the House space subcommittee on the program, the US Government Accountability Office provided a report that called the published schedule in to question. The GAO provides oversight on big programs like Commercial Crew.

The report specifically calls into question the certification date of the two spacecraft being developed under the program. From the SpaceNews article by Jeff Foust:

Christina Chaplain, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the GAO, said in her testimony that despite current schedules, which call for certifying both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in the first quarter of 2019 after the completion of planned uncrewed and crewed test flights late this year, NASA’s own estimates project that certification to be significantly delayed.

“We found that the program’s own analysis indicates that certification is likely to slip into December 2019 for SpaceX and February 2020 for Boeing,” she said. Those certifications are required before the vehicles can begin regular crew rotation flights to and from the International Space Station

A year’s delay is pretty significant. I asked myself how the companies could be so out of sync with the GAO. Chaplain helps me out:

Chaplain said the companies assumed aggressive schedules, in part to motivate their teams working on the vehicles, assumptions NASA does not necessarily accept. “According to NASA, both contractors assumed an efficiency factor in getting to the crewed flight test that the program office does not assume in its schedule,” she said.

This kind of made me chuckle. I work in business and this strategy is all too familiar to me. Pick an aggressive schedule, speak of it like it’s law, and kick everyone into gear to meet it. Even if it’s not realistic and you overshoot by a bit, the fabricated urgency can still move your timelines to the left. It’s the same as when you tell that one friend who never shows up on time to arrive to the party 30 minutes before everyone else, just to get them there along with everyone else.

FYI – I covered Commercial Crew’s GAO report, along with the rest of the Mars headlines for the week, on the most recent edition of the Red Planet Review, a weekly podcast. It’s available to our Patreon supporters and I think you’d like it.

Become a Lander-level ($3+) Patron to hear me discuss Commercial Crew on Red Planet Review

Soyuz Manifest

The Soyuz MS-01 spacecraft launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome July 7, 2016 Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Delays happen in spaceflight. But the tough part for NASA here is that if Commercial Crew doesn’t come online in late 2019, they won’t have access to space. NASA currently has seats booked on Russian Soyuz spacecraft until 2019. Here’s the best I could determine for upcoming crew manifests, to help you understand it.

  • Soyuz MS-08 – March 9th 2018
    • 1 Russian, 2 Americans
  • Soyuz MS-09 – April 25th 2018
    • 1 Russian, 1 American, 1 European
  • Soyuz MS-10 – September 30th 2018
    • 2 Russians, 1 American
  • Soyuz MS-11 – November 30th 2018
    • 1 Russian, 1 American, 1 Canadian
  • Soyuz MS-12 – March 30th 2019
    • 2 Russians, 1 American
  • Soyuz MS-13 – September 13th, 2019
    • 1 Russian, 1 American, 1 European

One thing I couldn’t determine was which of these flights were part of the option NASA exercised to acquire three more Soyuz seats from Boeing as part of the Energia settlement last year. The best I can determine is that they were in 2019. With just two Americans on the manifest in 2019, that could mean there is one more seat unaccounted for. It could also be accounted for by the European seat on MS-13, though. Since government agencies can’t pay each other for services, the collaboration of the International Space Station sometimes results in a lot of weird “swaps” to track member contributions. I believe ESA’s contributions of the service module to NASA’s Orion spacecraft is part of their contributions, so NASA might have to give that seat to them in exchange. If you know for sure, please let me know.

Nonetheless, NASA’s in a tough spot. Soyuz spacecraft have a three year lead time from order to flight, so additional ones cannot be procured for 2019 or 2020.  At the hearing, NASA said it was exploring “additional options” to get people to the station. One possibility is to procure the existing Soyuz seats already ordered for this time period. Russia reduced their crew complement on the station from 3 to 2, but as far as I can tell never actually reduced the planned Soyuz flights. By sticking to four flights per year, they could monetize the flights by reviving a tourist program they once flew in the first decade of this century. Maybe NASA could purchase them? We’ll need to wait to find out.

ISS Future

One more thought on this, though. Plans to operate the ISS only go til 2024. If the Commercial Crew flights aren’t certified until 2020, that leaves just 4 years for NASA to get return on the investment it made into these companies. Each additional delay reduces that window further. Given the delays with SLS, NASA’s missing Administrator, and the recent pivot to a human lunar program that will certainly cascade delays as any major change would, it is increasingly likely that NASA will seek to continue operation of the station until 2028.

I’m a big fan of the ISS. It’s done a tremendous job engaging people, forging international relationships, delivering great science, and serving as a platform to kickstart a spaceflight economy. We wouldn’t have Bigelow Aerospace testing their Expandable Module without it. But the idea of operating it for another 10 years at the expense of deep space exploration is a tough pill to swallow for a Martian like me. As I said, delays happen in spaceflight, but just because it’s common doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.

Patreon LogoAs we head in to the 3rd year of the Podcast & second of its Patreon campaign, I’ve set some ambitious goals for funding. I’d like to travel annually to cover events for listeners. Perhaps more importantly, I’m committed to launching the WeMartians Travel Grant. If I’m serious about hitting these goals this year I need to ensure that the benefits of becoming a patron are clear. It occurs to me that I’ve only ever gone over the rewards at a cursory level. So, with this blog series I hope to change that.

Today I’d like to go in to detail about the most accessible support level: Orbiter. You’re an Orbiter-level patron if you contribute $1 a month to the show through Patreon. Orbiter-level rewards centre around bonus audio content. We produced nearly six hours of content in 2017.

Extended Interview Content

Most of our shows are interviews with scientists, engineers and communicators in the space industry. While I do prepare questions for guests ahead of time to give them time to prepare, these conversations can sometimes organically go to new places I didn’t expect. This of course can create situations where there is just too much audio to fit into an episode! While this means some stuff gets cut from the main feed, for Orbiter-level patrons this becomes additional content. In other situations, I will sometimes prepare questions specifically for Patrons with the intention of never putting in the main feed.

I really like these bonus pieces because they are opportunities to explore ideas that are slightly outside the main stream of the podcast. For example, for Episode 19: Dome Sweet Dome, I was able to spend another 10 minutes asking Jeffrey and Kelsey what it was like as architects to work at NASA for a short period. It was really fun to hear the perspectives from people not normally connected with space.

For episode 23 I was able to ask Frances Butcher about her work helping select a landing site for the ExoMars rover. In episode 24, Leonard David told us the story of the Mars Underground, giving us a fascinating look into the precursors to today’s Mars Society. Lori Fenton gave us insights into dunes on other worlds besides Mars after our interview for episode 32.

For episode 26, we have three pieces of bonus content. Since this was more of an interwoven story about the Pathfinder Mission, I cut most of the audio from our interviews. Full conversations from Brian Muirhead, Donna Shirley and Matt Golombek were provided to Patrons!

Finally, for episode 33 (which covered Lockheed Martin’s Mars Base Camp), I tried something different. Instead of bonus interview content, I went through Lockheed’s White Paper on the architecture and provided some of my own insights into its design.

Support the WeMartians Podcast at the Orbiter Level ($1)

“Off the Cuff” Series

NASA's SLS Rocket ascending to spaceAnother form of bonus content you’ll get as a Orbiter-level patron is my haphazard Off the Cuff series. Off the Cuff is irregular in its release because they are spontaneous monologues that I have based on news that happens or thoughts I fall in to. These pieces are generally around 20-40 minutes, which means they’re podcasts in their own right. I don’t script these (but I do prepare notes) which means it’s a little more raw and visceral than the polished episodes you’re used to hearing in the main feed.

NASA's Mars 2020 Rover RenderingWe published seven Off the Cuff episodes in 2017. I discussed NASA exploring putting crew on EM1 and the announced Deep Space Gateway plan. We talked about the future of the robotic Mars Exploration Program and the new Sample Return Architecture. I discussed the cancellation of SpaceX’s Red Dragon and why it wasn’t such bad news. At right at the end of the year, we tackled the tough question of whether or not SLS should be cancelled.

Event Audio

Jake with past guest and fellow Martian Tanya Harrison at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. They are showing off their respective space T-Shirts. Jake has a United Federation of Planets shirt while Tanya is wearing a Caturday shirt.In March of last year, I travelled to Houston to attend the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. I produced episode 21 with the audio I acquired there, but there was more where that came from. Orbiter-level patrons got three 10-15 minute audio updates through the event and one video update as well where I covered the history of LPSC. This gave me an opportunity to share at a more granular level what was happening at the conference. It was a lot of fun.

Many ways to listen

All of the bonus audio produced for Patrons is accessible in many different ways. You can listen in your browser by logging in to the Patreon site and navigating to the individual posts. Set your email preferences to be notified when new content is posted, too.

Alternatively, download the Patreon App to view the posts and listen right on your phone. Enable push notifications to be notified of new posts.

The best way to listen is perhaps through your own private RSS Feed. Manually add the feed to your podcast player along with the main WeMartians Podcast feed. This way, you can get the content in the same place. The feed is customized to your reward level so you’ll get the content you pay for.

Summary

The Orbiter-level is a great, accessible way to support the show and also get a lot of great content. For the price of a movie ticket once a year, you get six hours of space content. Plus, your money helps send me to events and eventually support a student! Hopefully a student who will work to discover Mars’ secrets or send people to deep space. That’s pretty cool.

Support the WeMartians Podcast at the Orbiter Level ($1)

Well, it’s been a heavy weekend of reading to catch up on the Mars Rovers Opportunity & Curiosity. The two rovers are active as ever exploring the Red Planet. Two detailed posts from the Planetary Society have kept me busy understanding what these two robots are up to!

Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity

On January 5th, A.J.S. Rayl posted a 2017 review of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. And, it was a doozy! I recommend the read if you want to get in to the details of the rover’s operations. But set aside 45 minutes to really get in to it. Opportunity had a pretty cool year and is now taking a daring trip down to the floor of Endeavour Crater.

Every year Opportunity has been exploring Mars has been one of challenges and rewards and 2017 was no exception, except perhaps it was more intense than most. The veteran robot field geologist was scaling the steep, sometimes slippery-with-gravel slopes of Cape Tribulation on her way to the valley when the year began. Now, as 2017 comes to an end, the robot field geologist is deep inside Perseverance and deep into the mission’s research, the centerpiece of the team’s tenth extended mission, looking to go farther back in Martian geologic time and uncover buried scientific treasure.

The post contains some info on Opportunity’s wheel problem, too.

June brought a ‘gloom’ that cast a pall on the mission team. While Opportunity making a basic arc back maneuver to turn, the steering actuator for her left front wheel stalled and she stopped, with that wheel stuck, toed-out 33 degrees.

We talked a little bit about the wheel problem when Mike Seibert came on the show to talk about Opportunity for Episode 29.

If anything, make sure you check out some of the stunning images from the little rover that could. For example, this artistic view processed by Stuart Atkinson really enchants me. Stu is a great follow on Twitter as well, if you want to get stuff like this in your feed regularly.

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / ASU / S. Atkinson

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity

Just when I was feeling good about myself for having diligently read through the Opportunity update, Emily Lakdawalla posted a 4 month update on Curiosity the very next day. I found this update really helpful in better understanding Curiosity’s current location, Vera Rubin Ridge. On the first episode of Red Planet Review I mentioned that the MSL rover had returned to an interesting place that had blueish rocks. Emily’s update helped me really get that. This image shows the ridge stretch across the map, with three distinct terraces. The southernmost (highest altitude) terrace has the bluish tinges. Keep in mind that this is false colour, taken in a way to help really spot different rock types.

NASA / JPL / UA / JHUAPL / Emily Lakdawalla

Emily provided some good updates on the drill, which is something she also talked to us about when she joined us to celebrate Curiosity’s 5th birthday on Mars back in Episode 27.

The rover could drill as early as February, potentially, but there are a lot of variables involved (including finding appropriate targets and avoiding Martian gremlins). It’ll happen when it happens, but there appears to be confidence that a return to drilling will happen, so that’s very good news.

I also learned a new geology word: Laminations (or something laminated). It refers to very fine layers in a sedimentary rock. Check out these laminations. Did someone 3D print these rocks?

NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

All in, these were great updates to kick off 2018. I’m really excited for what these rovers will tell us this year. And I’m particularly excited for whatever updates might be announced at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference this year. Yes, I’ll be attending again! So stay tuned, Martians!

 

Get your Curiosity SOON T-Shirt at the WeMartians Shop!

Happy New Year! We’ve arrived at 2018 and I couldn’t be more excited about where we’re headed this year with the podcast and what we’ve been able to do for our Patreon supporters. In case you missed it, we announced a huge overhaul to our goals and rewards for 2018 and I can’t wait to get going.

Thanks to all the Patrons who’ve pledged support already. We’re 76% of the way to our goal of $300/month to fund one annual trip to cover live events. Click here to join the growing number of Martians who help support the exploration of Mars. Here’s a look at everything Patrons have enjoyed over the last month!

Highlights

  • Bonus Content: Episode 34 (Laura Forczyk) – Laura shared some of her thoughts on the current state of the Space Tourism industry, what challenges it faces in the future, and how it might get off the ground (literally).
  • New Patreon Goal – As part of the changes announced on Dec 20th, we created a new goal of $450/month. If we reach it, we’ll create the WeMartians Travel Grant, a competitive award for students travelling to conferences to share their work on Mars. It’s a way for us to give back to the Mars community & lend support to its exploration.
  • New Patreon Rewards – We overhauled our rewards. We amped up the $3 and $5 levels with some new perks. We also introduced three new premier levels at $10, $15, and $25 that not only get you handwritten postcards from me with WeMartians stickers, but also permanent discounts in our new store!
  • The Off-Nominal Discord – Rover-level and higher patrons enjoyed our new shared Discord Channel, Off-Nominal. Partnering with the Main Engine Cut Off Podcast, we’ve bridged two fan-bases together. It’s a community where space lovers can connect, share ideas, and discuss current events. So what have we been discussing so far?
    • Lots of Falcon Heavy hype
    • A rousing debate on the pros and cons of the SLS rocket
    • Space T-Shirt Fridays, where we share some of our coolest space T-Shirts
  • Bonus Content: Off the Cuff – “Should SLS be Cancelled?” – In our longest Off the Cuff yet, I explore some of the arguments for and against cancelling the SLS rocket, and why I think the argument is more complex than simply a cost issue.

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

 

 

It’s been requested, it’s been longed for, and it’s finally here. The WeMartians Shop is the new place to find all your favourite WeMartians merchandise.

Today we launched our store with an assortment of original T-Shirt designs. The designs are available in a selection of different colours & sizes for both men and women! They feature different Mars spacecraft and rockets as well as two options if you’re looking to wear the WeMartians logo.

Our goal was to create some unique designs that are print-on-demand but not too expensive. And you save on the shipping if you combine items! So take a look, pickup a new shirt, and help support WeMartians.

How do I get one?!

Head over to the WeMartians Shop by clicking this link or looking for “SHOP” at the top of the page in the menu bar. You can browse all the designs and colours there.

We’ll be introducing many new designs over the year for special events so check back to see what’s new, and be sure to follow us on Social Media to stay on top of new designs or special sales.

Show the world you’re a Martian!

If you pick up a shirt, we’d love to hear about it. Post a selfie in it and tag us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! We love meeting our listeners (even digitally)!

At the beginning of this year, we launched our Patreon campaign. Patreon provides small projects like WeMartians a way to self-fund through the generous donations of listeners like you. You contribute a little bit every month, we provide you with nice perks. All your small contributions aggregate into enough money to support our operations.

Since we launched, we’ve seen a tremendous level of support from Martians all over the world. We set three goals in 2017 and reached two of them, allowing us to cover our operating costs and upgrade our recording equipment. And we’re well on our way to our third goal to fund travel to (at least) one event every year. So now that it’s a new year, it’s high-time we look at our rewards & goals for 2018. And wow do we have some awesome news!

The WeMartians Travel Grant

WeMartians depends heavily on the appearances of guests sharing their work with you the listener. Without the generosity of the scientists, engineers and communicators who give their time for free, there wouldn’t be much of a show left to give. Because of this, it has always been a dream of ours to give back to the community. The WeMartians Travel Grant is our way to do it.

To accomplish this, we’re adding a new Patreon goal. If we reach $450/month, we will introduce the WeMartians Travel Grant, a small competitive award available to students seeking to travel to conferences or other events to share their work on Mars. With the help of our contacts in the community, we’ve identified conference travel as an area of opportunity that could benefit from financial aid and we think it’s a good way for us to give back.

But to make this happen we need your help! Your small contribution to the podcast through Patreon adds up! But if helping out students isn’t rewarding enough, we’re sweetening the deal with some new perks for our Patrons.

Introducing the Red Planet Review

The thing about releasing episodes every three weeksis that it’s difficult to stay topical. The podcast schedule is pretty inelastic when it comes to reacting to Mars news as it happens. To help remedy this, we’re introducing the Red Planet Review, a short weekly headlines show that summarizes all the Mars news from the week. From new science papers talking about the discovery of water on Mars (yes, again) to breakthroughs in engineering enabling deep space exploration to policy on human spaceflight, we’ll cover it all in a blitz fashion so you can stay up to date.

The Red Planet Review will air its first episode on January 5th and every week thereafter for all Patrons pledging $3 or more to the show each month. You’ll be able to access the show in your own private RSS feed which you can load right in to your podcast app and listen to it like any other podcast.

Subscribe to the Red Planet Review for just $3/month!

Welcome to the Space Discord Hangout

Looking to connect with other listeners about the latest Mars events, live launch parties or general discussion with like-minded people? We’re making the a sharedDiscord Hangout a real thing. This chatroom, available through the Discord app on your PC or your mobile device, will be the place to have real discussions with Jake and other Martians on a regular basis. Have a question about an episode? Pop in and ask. Want to share a cool Mars thing you found? Let us know. It’s a new community we’re trying to build to keep the Mars love alive.

But wait, there’s more. We’ve partnered with the Main Engine Cut Off Podcast to combine this reward with their own shared channel. So not only will you have the great Martians supporters to chat Mars news with, but also the Main Engine Cut Off supporters to keep you up to date on the launch vehicle and satellite industry. The more the merrier! We’re calling the new shared space the Off-Nominal Channel and it’s another step forward in building an awesome online community.

The shared Discord Hangout will be available to all Patrons pledging $5 or more to the show each month.

Join the WeMartians Community Discord for just $5/month!

Are you a WeMartians Superfan?

We get it, Mars is really awesome. So we can understand why you might want to go all in on helping us keep the show alive. If the $5 reward level seems like it isn’t enough for you, we’re introducing three new reward levels for those that want to give even more. You can now contribute at the $10, $15 and $25 level to provide incredible firepower to the show. All of these new levels will get your name (if you choose) and level added to a special donor page on WeMartians.com to thank you for your contribution. Plus, Jake will send you a personal, handwritten postcard, complete with some WeMartians stickers, to show you his gratitude.

We don’t think that’s enough. For these Superfan donors, we’ll be providing permanent discounts at the newly launched WeMartians Store, giving you the best prices on all WeMartians merchandise. You’ll get a special coupon code to give you a blanket discount on anything we sell. It’s a way for us to say thanks for your generosity.

  • Station Level ($10/month) – 10% off the WeMartians Store
  • Excursion Level ($15/month) – 15% off the WeMartians Store
  • Base Level ($25/month) – 25% off the WeMartians Store

And if that isn’t enough, remember that if we reach our $450/month goal, you’ll be helping send a deserving student to a Mars conference. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Become a WeMartians Superfan!

Summary of Patreon Goals

Ok, so that’s a lot of information, so here’s a summary of our upcoming Patreon goals:

  • $300/month – Guarantee travel to at least one Mars event in the year, letting us provide live coverage through social media and on-the-ground access to interviewees for podcast material
  • $450/month – Fund the WeMartians Travel Grant, giving a student the financial support needed to travel to a conference or event to share their work on Mars

Summary of Patreon Rewards

Here are all the WeMartians Patreon Rewards for each pledge level. All levels receive the listed benefits and the benefits of all lesser levels. All reward levels also receive a special social media badge that shows their level and year that they can use to spread the WeMartians love.

  • $1/month – Access to bonus content (including extended interviews) plus occasional “Off the Cuff” monologues from Jake
  • $3/month – Access to the Red Planet Review, a weekly show covering all the Mars headlines from the week
  • $5/month – Advance notice of Interviews (and the chance to submit questions), access to the WeMartians/Main Engine Cut Off Discord Chat Hangout
  • $10/month – Listed as a Station-level donor on WeMartians.com, Handwritten Post-card from Jake (w/Stickers!), 10% of the WeMartians Store
  • $15/month – Listed as an Excursion-level donor on WeMartians.com, 15% off the WeMartians Store
  • $25/month – Listed as a Base-level donor on WeMartians.com, 25% off the WeMartians Store

Please note that due to community feedback, we will be discontinuing the old reward of the quarterly chat hangout. We think the 24/7 community hangout is a much better model, and we hope that access to the Red Planet Review will make up for this!

Well, we’re heading into the final month of WeMartians’ second year and our first with a Patreon campaign. I must say, I am still so thankful for everyone who has contributed to this show over the year.

Thanks to all the Patrons who’ve pledged support already. We’re 60.3% of the way to our goal of $300/month to fund one anual trip to cover live events. Click here to join the growing number of Martians who help support the exploration of Mars. I missed the summary for October, so here’s a look at everything Patrons have enjoyed over the last two months!

Highlights

  • Bonus Content: Episode 31 (Chantelle Dubois) – Chantelle shared some of her experiences selecting Canadian astronauts and her work on the Space Generation Advisory Council.
  • Goal Reached! $150/month! – With all your help, we reached our second goal of $150/month, which means we got to upgrade our gear! I’ve purchased a new microhpone, mixer and monitoring headphones, and have been trying it out on the last couple shows. There are a few more tweaks I need to make to the setup. Then I’ll be making a short video for Patrons to show them the fruits of their labour.
  • First look at Off-Nominal – Patrons enjoyed early access to the first episode of Off-Nominal, my new podcast with Main Engine Cut Off host Anthony Colangelo. If you like a more casual, beer-powered monthly space podcast, you should check it out!
  • Bonus Content: Episode 32 (Lori Fenton) – Lori gave us a quick tour of Dunes throughout the solar system, from Mars to Venus, Titan and beyond.
  • 4thd Quarterly Chat – Martians got together to discuss some of the recent episodes and plans for the new year!
  • Bonus Content: Episode 33 (Danielle Richey and Steve Jolly) – As companion audio to the main episode, I recorded about 17 minutes of bonus audio going in deep on the technical white paper for Lockheed Martin’s Mars Base Camp.

There’s one more thing I’d like to give you a heads up on! With the year ending soon, and having reached two of our three Patreon goals, it’s time for a review! I’ll be sitting down and plotting out new goals for 2018 and new reward levels. Plus, the rewards for each Patron-level will be reviewed, and I have some fun new ideas I want to try! Stay tuned for more details.

Hey there, Martians!

You might have noticed something different about WeMartians.com. We’ve made a pretty serious upgrade to our web platform! We hope it helps make a better experience visiting us and exploring our podcast.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the new features:

  • Podcast Carousel: The front page now shows a browseable carousel of the most recent three episodes, so you can quickly catch up with the newest content. Each carousel page features the episode title, a feature image, and a built in browser player.
  • Podcast Browsing: Beneath the carousel, you’ll see the six previous episodes in a convenient list. Click on “Podcasts” to be taken to the full listing of every episode.
  • Podcast Pages: Each episode now features its own page with a promo image, built-in player, and for the first time ever a fully functional show notes that actually appear in your podcast player! It’s been a big miss on our previous platform to only have show notes on the website rather than directly in your app, but that is fixed now!
  • Separate Blog: Looking for non-podcast blog posts? They’re now properly separated. The bottom of the home page has our most recent four posts. You can also load all of them by visiting the “Blog” page at the top.
  • WordPress Extensibility: Our previous platforms were limited in their scope, designed primarily for drag and drop functionality to get something up quickly. WeMartians is now a WordPress site, giving it incredible flexibility in what we can do now and in the future.

What about the podcast itself? Where are the SoundCloud links?

As part of this move, we transitioned our hosting platform on the back-end from SoundCloud to Blubrry. There are a few reasons for this, so I’ll highlight the key benefits here:

  • PowerPress: Blubrry and WordPress work really well together. This new platform allows me to publish episodes directly through the blog. It also allows me to schedule a post in the future, streamlining my publishing workflow. Maybe that’s not exciting for you, but for me it’s a life saver! In the old world, I literally had to get up at 5AM on the West Coast and publish everything manually, step by step, if I wanted to reach the East Coast audience on their commute. All in all, It will be much simpler for me to publish, meaning I can spend more time actually creating content and value for you.
  • Customization: Blubrry & PowerPress provide a lot more customization and control over the RSS feed. Now, I have much better control of what iTunes and other directories can see. Blubrry, unlike SoundCloud, is designed for podcasts.
  • Stability: SoundCloud is generally a very stable platform, but they’ve also faced some financial problems that give me cause for concern.

Do I need to make changes in how I listen to the show?

Generally, no. For most listeners, you’ll be able to carry on as usual, but I do want to make a few key points.

  • SoundCloud Redirect: I set up a SoundCloud redirect, so anyone who has subscribed directly to the RSS feed should be redirected to the new one. However, this depends on SoundCloud maintaining the redirect. For safety, I recommend you unsubscribe and re-subscribe by searching for WeMartians in the feed directory of your app. Not sure how you’ve subscribed? You’ll know you’re on the wrong feed if you get an audio file with me giving these instructions, which I put up in the old feed today.
  • SoundCloud App/Direct Sub: If you subscribe directly to our SoundCloud channel via their website or the SoundCloud app, you’ll no longer be able to get new episodes this way. Please use a Podcast player on your device instead (such as Apple Podcasts or Simple Cast), or if you listen through a browser, come directly to WeMartians.com.
  • Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play Music, TuneIn, Blubrry Directory: These directories should change automatically. Note, if you listen on Android, your app probably subscribes to one of these directories.

If you’ve got questions, please let me know at info@wemartians.com. I’ll be happy to help you investigate!

Thanks, and I hope you enjoy the new site!

 

As you may have guessed, I love Podcasting. WeMartians has been one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on, and I’ve learned so much form it. Most importantly, I’ve met a lot of incredible people. One of those people is Anthony Colangelo from the Main Engine Cut Off Podcast.

Anthony and I talk often. It’s helpful for both of us to have someone to work through the confusing world of space. We don’t always get to the answers, but talking gives us better understanding of the machinations of the space world. We also like joking around a bit, and enjoy a cold beer here and there. So we decided to put all that together into something that might be of value to others.

So we’d like to introduce the Off-Nominal Podcast. It’s a monthly, informal, casual conversation between the two of us about whatever space topics happen to be on our mind at the time. Each month, we’ll crack open a new cold beer and let the conversation go where it takes us. We’re purposely keeping it unstructured, but you can at least count on the subject matter being space.

This month in the inaugural episode, we unpacked the SpaceX news, the fate of Falcon Heavy, and the National Space Council’s first meeting. Oh, and there was something about pajamas in there, too. In the future, who knows – maybe we get some guests, maybe we meet up in person for Off-Nominal Live – the universe is the limit.

So if you’re interested, grab your favourite brew and head over to offnominal.space, or download it on your favourite podcasting app under “Off-Nominal”. Then let us know what you think!

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