The WeMartians Blog

Other items of interest from the fourth planet

It’s been an exciting month for Patrons of the show. We’ve only been live for about five weeks but there is already lots going on.

Thanks to all the Patrons who have pledged support already. We’re 62% of the way to our first goal of $65/month in order to satisfy all the podcast’s operating expenses. Click the link to the right if you’d like to join the growing number of Martians who help support the exploration of Mars.

Read more below for a summary of the Patreon highlights in February.

  • Patreon Commercial – Three volunteer Martians have had their voices heard on the show (literally) by participating in a short spot for Patreon that I use on the podcast. Thanks to Jorge, Paul and Anthony for lending their lungs to the cause!
  • 1st Quarterly Chat – Lander- and Rover-level patrons joined me for the first ever quarterly chat hangout on Discord. We discussed past episodes and future content, as well as geeking out about a few topics like the Mars2020 rover. It was an awesome experience for me to get feedback from the listeners, but also really excited that they can set direction for the show.
  • Interview Contributions – Patron Jorge, a Rover-level Martian, had his questions read on the air in Episode 19 – Dome Sweet Dome. Jorge asked about the extensibility of the Mars Ice Home as well as the source of its building materials.
  • Bonus Content – Extended Interview – All Patrons were able to listen to the extended interview with Kelsey Lents and Jeffrey Montes from Episode 19 – Dome Sweet Dome. Jeffrey and Kelsey describe what it was like working with NASA and being a part of a greater space community.
  • Bonus Content – “Off the Cuff” – Pushing SLS – All Patrons also got a mini-episode where I share some thoughts on the news that NASA will explore putting a crew on to the first flight of the SLS rocket. This change would accelerate NASA’s schedule and is a bit uncharacteristic. I tried to provide some context to what it all means.

It’s not too late to get in on this action – head over to www.patreon.com/wemartians and see how you can not only help the show grow, but also become more involved with the exploration of Mars for as little as $1/month.

 Our Patreon campaign may have only launched on January 23rd, but there’s been quite a lot of activity going on there! It’s not too late to get in on these perks, either. Check out the Patreon page for more info.

Thanks to all the Patrons who have pledged support already. We’re 20% of the way to our first goal of $65/month in order to satisfy all the podcast’s operating expenses.

Read more below for a summary of the Patreon highlights in January.

  • Social Media Badges – I’ve posted all three Social Media Badges for the different patronage levels you can contribute at. These are just fun little images you can share however you like (on your blog, your Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to tell the world you’re a Martian and that you support the show.
  • Bonus Content – All Patrons who contribute at least $1/month got access to a 10 minute bonus podcast that’s the first in my “Off the Cuff” series. This time, we covered Moon vs. Mars. “Off the Cuff” is quick hit about current events, and it’s unscripted, unscheduled, and uncut. I hope to do many of them in the future!
  • Quarter 1 Podcast Meetup – Scheduled for February 12th, I’ll be hosting the first ever meetup for Patrons who contribute $3 or more to the show. We’ll be discussing past and future episodes, as well as upcoming coverage of the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, which I will be travelling down to Houston to see.
  • Interview Announcement – Patrons who contribute $5/month or more got notice of the next interview for Episode 19. They’re already thinking up questions that I’ll read on the air! I think it’s an awesome way to involve the contributors with the show.

It’s not too late to get in on this action – head over to www.patreon.com/wemartians and see how you can not only help the show grow, but also become more involved with the exploration of Mars for as little as $1/month.

Today we’re officially launching our Patreon campaign. Patreon is a great, simple platform for listeners and readers like you to support the show financially. By subscribing to us on Patreon for as little as $1/month, you can ensure ongoing content continues to come out by helping us with our operating costs. The WeMartians Podcast will always be free, but if you find value in what you hear, consider becoming a patron today! There are perks in it for you, too!

There are three levels to donate at, and each level grants you some pretty cool perks.

  • Orbiter Level ($1/month) – Access to the Patron only feed over on the Patreon site, where I will occasionally post bonus audio. video or text content.
  • Lander Level ($3/month) – Access to a quarterly chat session where we will discuss past and future episodes, and you can provide feedback on the direction of the show.
  • Rover Level ($5/month) – Advance notice of interviews and the opportunity to submit questions ahead of time that could be read on the show. You can not only be a supporter, but a contributor!

At each level, you’ll also get a sweet social media badge that tells the world you’re a Martian!

You can check out the page on Patreon to learn more about our funding goals and what we’ll do with the money. My goal is to be as transparent as possible throughout this campaign. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll become a WeMartians Patron today!

On October 19th, the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission reaches Mars. It’s the only spacecraft to make the trip during this launch window and comprises an orbiter and a lander. There’s a lot going on and WeMartians will be there every step of the way!

Get yourself totally revved up with this animation of the ExoMars mission using Kerbal Space Program (I had a productive weekend).

Timeline of Events
October 14th

  • ExoMars will make a small trim manoeuvre to pinpoint the landing trajectory.

October 16th

  • 07:52 PDT/10:52 EDT – Schiaparelli Lander separates from Trace Gas Orbiter (1Mkm from Mars)

October 19th

  • 05:00 PDT/08:00 PDT – WeMartians Live Twitter Coverage Begins
  • 06:19 PDT/09:19 EDT – Trace Gas Orbiter begins insertion burn
  • 07:52 PDT/10:52 EDT – Schiaparelli enters the atmosphere
  • 07:58 PDT/10:58 EDT – Schiaparelli lands on the surface of Mars
  • 08:23 PDT/11:23 EDT – Trace Gas Orbiter insertion burn ends

After the mission, we’ll be recording an ExoMars podcast episode with a special guest to talk all about the exciting science ahead for the Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli. Look for it in our podcast stream the week after arrival.

On Tuesday, June 28th 2016, starting at 9:30AM EDT (6:30AM PDT), we’ll be live-tweeting the second and final qualification test of the NASA SLS Solid Rocket Booster at the Orbital ATK facility in Promontory, Utah. This 2-minute static fire will test the lower temperature envelope for performance on the rocket before flight models are completed for SLS’s first flight in 2018.
The first qualification test, QM-1, was completed in March of 2015 and tested the high temperature envelope (90F/32C). QM-2 has a chilled booster at 40F/4C. This ensures the booster will operate well in various temperatures at the launch site in Florida. Learn more about QM-1 with this video:
The 5-segment motor, derived from old Shuttle boosters, takes advantage of some high-tech manufacturing to help produce a lighter, safer, and more environmentally friendly booster which also produces more thrust. Here’s a great, inside look into the manufacturing process.
Check our Twitter account (@we_martians) on Monday for a series of fun facts on the SLS SRBs. Then, beginning at 9:30AM EDT, we’ll live tweet the event and provide stream information you can watch live! See you there!

Giovanni Schiaparelli, one of the most famous observers of Mars prior to the space age, would have celebrated his 181st birthday today, were it not for, you know, aging. Though he wasn’t around to celebrate, he nonetheless received a pretty amazing gift.

At 09:31 GMT, a Russian Proton-M rocket lifted off from the historic launch facility at Baikonur in Kazakhstan. Where once top secret Soviet satellites and crewed spacecraft launched to space in a heated space race with the United States, today an international mission of science and discovery called ExoMars began its 496 km journey to Mars.

The main spacecraft, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), will search for methane sources on the Red Planet and map hydrogen content below the surface, continuing Schiaparelli’s search for life in the solar system. While the Italian astronomer used a big telescope and a keen eye to chart what he referred to as canali on the surface, TGO will use advanced neutron detectors and stereo photography.


Perched atop the TGO, in a small aerodynamic capsule, is the entry and descent landing demonstrator, a small spacecraft designed to plunge into the atmosphere of Mars. Slowing down using a heat shield, a parachute, and a set of pulse-fired liquid-fueled rocket thrusters, it will come to a stop in Meridiani Planum (where NASA’s Opportunity Rover is still exploring today) with an uncerimonious thump, atop it’s collapsible landing pad. The lander’s name? Why, Schiaparelli, of course.
It’s an ambitious mission which has only just begun; course corrections are planned throughout it’s 7-month journey, and TGO will need to operate for many years after insertion, conducting science and also acting as relays for surface operating spacecraft, including the upcoming follow up from ESA – the ExoMars 2018 rover.Here at WeMartians, the event began early in the morning. Very early.


The pre-launch operations went well. The launch vehicle was fueled, the gantry was retracted, and the thermal blankets were removed from the payload fairings. Launch polls went flawlessly, and the spacecraft was moved to internal power. Finally, without a lot of pomp or circumstance, Proton-M leisurely climbed from the pad, unhindered by the usual launch clamps that usually hold down its cousins like Soyuz.
And while the liftoff seemed pretty casual, the launch sequence was fast and furious. It was my first real attempt at live-tweeting a launch; I hope I did ok!
The orbital insertion of ExoMars and it’s Briz-M upper stage was only the beginning though. Thanks to a highly efficient but very low-thrust engine on the Briz-M, the spacecraft doesn’t have the power necessary to escape Earth’s gravity in one fell swoop (ie. a single engine burn). It has to do a really tedious and time-consuming multi-orbit, 4-burn manoeuvre before it can head to Mars. I took this opportunity to share some info about the tracking stations used during the launch sequence.
Ninety minutes after launch, the spacecraft circled around the Earth and began it’s second burn.
Along the journey, I filled the time with still more fun facts! Some were even delivered by Michael Khan, a trajectory specialist for ExoMars!
Following the third burn, which raised the apogee to 21,000 km, I shared some info from the Schiaparelli landing presentation, which had some great testing videos.
Then I had a nap. I had been up all night and needed a bit of a refresher so I could be back for the fourth and final burn, which was not scheduled for six more hours as ExoMars circled a highly eccentric orbit around the Earth. Social media took a break, too, but as the moment approached, things started heating up again!
The final burn was a success. ExoMars was officially en route to Mars, and the spacecraft separated from the Briz-M upper stage.  If you’ve ever wondered what happens when your tweet is retweeted by Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor of the Planetary Society, it looks like this. I might need a new vibration motor in my phone after all the activity.
The final crucial moment of the day was over an hour after separation. At this point, the automated sequence on board the spacecraft switched to cruise mode, and phoned home to the little 2 metre X-band antenna dish in Malindi, Kenya. ESOC then commanded ExoMars to open its solar panels, bathing the spacecraft in sunlight now that it has crossed the terminator. The precise trajectory of the spacecraft could then be calculated.
And the event concluded with the ceremonial first tweet from the ExoMars orbiter, a new custom among space agencies looking to reach greater audiences by anthropomorphizing their spacecraft.
It was a fantastic ride, but ExoMars is on the way. In mid-October, it will reach the Red Planet – we’ll talk more about it then!
Happy Birthday, Giovanni!