I am excited to participate in a special event today at Johnson Space Center / Space Center Houston. You know the place: “Houston, we have a problem.” Only there is not problem today! Just a lot of fun and learning! I haven’t been back to Houston since my visit as Astronaut Luca Parmitano’s Earth Liaison in July of 2013. It’s so exciting to be back and to get to see the progress that has been made on NASA’s Journey To Mars!
The event is a media event for ‘The Martian’ movie** and is sure to be a lot of fun with scientists, astronauts and many others involved in getting us to Mars as well as many who were involved in producing the movie. Check back to this blog post today as I will be live-blogging throughout the day.
Also, you can follow me on Twitter @AstronautAbby, follow @MartianMovie and/or the hashtag #TheMartian to get live updates all day long, including many photos. I will be sharing on my other social media channels including Facebook, Instagram and Google+, but if you want to see all the action, check in on Twitter. You do not need to have a Twitter account to do a search on Twitter and follow along.
7:22 am On our way to badging
I am so thrilled to be here and get to share this experience with everyone online. Getting an inside peak at the technology that NASA has or is currently developing to get us to Mars and how it was used in the movie ‘The Martian’ is pretty exciting. Also I can’t wait to hear from NASA experts who advised on the movie and the movie producers about how they worked together to make the movie so realistic.
7:56 am At the badging office with my mom
So excited to be here! And it’s fun to meet up with my mom after being away at Wellesley College these past few months. Here’s our obligatory badging selfie. For those of you who have been following me for awhile you know my mom and I like to share a badging photo everytime we visit NASA.
8:33 am Just arrived at Johnson Space Center!
Here I am under the Lunar Lander or “spider.” How cool is this? So excited to be here checking out the museum! It’s fun to be at the museum when it’s empty. Such a different experience.
8:50 am A warm welcome to NASA Johnson Space Center
Ellen Ochoa director of Johnson Space center talking about #JourneyToMars and how ‘The Martian’ plays a role. Dr. Ellen Ochoa is a veteran astronaut and director of the Johnson Space Center. Through her career she has made history by becoming the first Hispanic woman to go to space when she served on the space shuttle Discovery in 1993.
9:08 am Watching Special Features Screening of The Martian
Movie magic! The behind the scenes making of The Martian which will be part of the Digital and Blu-Ray release is really fascinating. It was so cool to see how they boring science fiction and science fact together. Our world is changing so fast. What was once thought impossible is now very possible.
I have enjoyed hearing how all the actors, producers and directors talk about the experience and their partnership with NASA to get the movie right!
9:30 am Questing and Answer Session
We had the opportunity after the special features screening of The Martian to ask questions to The Martian producer Aditya Sood, NASA Astronaut Dr. Drew Feusteland and Planetary Science Director Dr. Jim Green.
This was such a great panel with lots of great questions from the press. The main questions were about how NASA experts worked to advise Ridley Scott (the director of The Martian) and his team to make the movie as accurate as possible.
I even had a chance to ask a question about how NASA sees pop culture from movies like The Martian affecting the long-term support of a Mars mission.
Pop culture can definitely help raise interest. It’s a matter of keeping that excitement going through outreach and education. NASA and the producers of The Martian have done a great job to bring this pop culture phenomenon forward and keep the excitement going. I love the partnership approach.
10:14 am Real NASA Technologies used in ‘The Martian’
Dr. Jim Green presents the next steps for NASA’s very real Journey to Mars and talks about some real NASA technologies which were shown in ‘The Martian’ (side note, some of the technologies shown or discussed are currently available while others are still being developed, however, the point is that these are all very realistic and attainable in our near future). I find it to be so important for people to understand that there are many technologies that NASA has already developed, or which they are in the process of developing, as part of our ongoing journey to Mars. A movie like ‘The Martian’ in which they portray these technologies can help the public to see what has already been developed, but also what kinds of things we still need to develop to make human Mars exploration possible! Having a representation of this can help the public to understand how complex a human Mars trip is and why NASA needs support from the public to make it happen (public enthusiasm and support is ESSENTIAL to the future of human space exploration!). There are 9 main, real technologies that are used in The Martian: the Mars habitat used by Watney, the Plant Farm developed by Watney, the Water Recovery system, Oxygen Generation, the Mars spacesuits, the Mars rover, Ion Propulsion,
solar panels for energy, and don’t forget the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs)!
In ‘The Martian’ Watney used an “oxygenator” system which generated oxygen using carbon dioxide from the MAV (Mars Ascent Vehicles) fuel generator. In real life on the International Space Station, astronauts and cosmonauts use whats known as the Oxygen Generation System (OGS). NASA is working to advance the ISS OGS to an even more efficient system for Mars exploration.
About Dr. Jim Green: In August 2006, Dr. Green became the Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. Over his career, Dr. Green has received numerous awards. In 1988, he received the Arthur S. Flemming award given for outstanding individual performance in the federal government and was awarded Japan’s Kotani Prize in 1996 in recognition of his international science data management activities. (Bio information taken from NASA website).
10:47 Meeting Robonaut – so exciting!
I may have a small crush on him! I have actually been lucky enough to meet Robonaut twice now. But this is the first time I have had a chance to learn about his development from one of his “trainers”. It’s cool to see him in person, or in robot if you will…
P.S., if you haven’t yet, google pictures of Robonaut on the International Space Station! The current one, Robonaut R2 was delivered on STS 133 in 2011 and currently assists the human crew members!
We visited the Mars Yard at Houston Space Center and got to see a prototype MMSEV in action. This rover is very similar to the not-so-fictional rover that was used by Mark Watney in ‘The Martian’ movie. NASA gave us rides in the rover and each person had a chance to sit up front with the vehicle specialist and help “drive” the vehicle (we didn’t really get to drive, for some reason my drivers license didn’t seem quite adequate…?) but it was fun to pretend! It’s a toss up between meeting Robonaut and riding/watching the rover for what was the most fun part of the day! I’m a big Robonaut fan- I love the idea of human/robotic collaboration in many fields, but especially in space exploration. There’s so much potential, plus its *very* scifi-esque! However… riding in the rover made it feel like we were actually on the Martian surface! The rover experience is definitely something I will remember forever! Check back for a video that I will post soon.
1:00pm Lunch and Meeting NASA Interns at Space Center Houston
Apart from seeing cool things, one of the best parts of my day was meeting a group of interns at lunch time! I tweeted the night before, while traveling to Houston, that I was on my way for some space fun at Johnson and a few interns/co-opers who were following me reached out for a meeting. Of course my answer was yes! We set a lunch date and when I arrived in the cafeteria I was honored to be greet by a wonderful group of incredibly intelligent, talented, and motivated interns. These six interns are an example of the future of NASA. They represent the elders of the generation which will go to Mars, the Mars generation, and were incredible people to spend an hour getting to talk with. While it was fun to hang out with and learn from reporters all day, as well as see all the cool NASA stuff, having an opportunity to be with my peers and listen to what they are doing to change the world and how they are stepping into roles as leaders of the future of space was the best! This was not part of the media tour, just a fortunate happening due to Twitter.
I have grown up admiring the interns at NASA, always looking at them and thinking ‘someday that may be me’ so it was very special to get to sit in real life with a group of them and have lunch. I can definitely see what they’re currently doing as a part of my future path. On that note, they were able to give me a lot of advice on my own journey, seeing as they’re a few steps ahead of me :). All around, they were just such unique and cool individuals! NASA is in good hands with young people like this gaining experience to someday work there. We are posing as super heroes in this photo because I think they’re all well on their way to being real life heroes.
2:59 pm Astronauts!
It was awesome to have a chance to meet Dr. Drew Feusteland (on my right) a current NASA astronaut who flew on the STS 134 Mission. This was the first launch I ever saw and it is always exciting to meet an astronaut who was on actually on board! Drew was part of the panel earlier in the day and also was part of a round table small group discussion that I got to be a part of. I learned a lot from him. I met retired astronaut Leland Melvin (on my left) at the Test Launch of Orion EFT-1 in December of 2014 so it was great to see him again! As a retired astronaut, Leland does a lot of STEM outreach which is something I admire. He gives so much time and effort to inspiring kids and also advancing the public’s interest in human space exploration! They are both role models to me!
3:59 pm Experiencing Mars in Virtual Reality
When they say that technology has come a long way this is what they are talking about! I had an opportunity to test out ‘The Martian’ VR Experience today and it was pretty amazing. If you want to know what it would be like to be Mark Watney and walk on Mars, this is for you! It’s a 360 degree experience that provides a very beautiful space transit and Mars walkaround. There’s a free 2 minute sneak peak (what I’m using here) that you should definitely check out. You will need the Samsung MILK VR system – it’s $99 on Amazon and if you buy it on the Amazon Smile network a portion of your purchase will go to the nonprofit of your choice. The full version of ‘The Martian’ VR Experience will be out January. There was a part that made me jump…
4:22 End of the Day Mission Control Cygnus Launch Viewing and Questions
Our last stop of the day was to Mission Control to watch the Cygnus ISS resupply launch. Before the launch there was a chance to ask questions about everything that has to do with launches of supplies and humans into space. It was a lot of fun all day long to hear all the questions reporters had. I have been to so many space events, but have never spent a day with reporters listening to their questions and it was a great way to learn even more. One thing that stood out was the fact that to support a human on the ISS for 6 months it requires 1.5 metric tons of supplies. That means for a Mars mission it would take approximately 6 metric tons for each astronaut that is sent on the mission.
In ‘The Martion’ movie they portray NASA Mars missions in the 2030’s and part of the plot is for Watney to make it to the site of the next Mars landing where they had already sent supplies. This is very realistic of how a Mars mission would happen. NASA estimates it would take 4 supply missions which would go up ahead of the human mission so that the astronauts would have what they need to setup a habitat and live for a short period of time to conduct their research. Things such as food, habitat, rovers, water and much more need to be supplied. Because it is an earth independent mission unlike low earth orbit missions where we resupply rather quickly from the earth it makes Mars much more difficult.
The Cygnus launch was scrubbed which was a bummer, but I admit at 5;15pm I was ready to head back to the hotel for my adventure back to Wellesley Massachusetts. Well honestly since I had just arrived at 3 am this morning I really just wanted to go to sleep. But that would be on the airplane for a 9 hour journey with a layover and overnight flight so I could make it back to classes in the morning. Even though my visit was less than 24 hours and I wished I could have spent more time -it was an action packed day filled with learning, meeting a lot of new people and a lot of fun! I am thankful to have had the experience and to share it with my community online. As a fan of Andy Weir’s book ‘The Martian’ and then watching it made into such a wonderful and realistic movie, it was fun to spend a day learning more about how NASA advised the makers of the movie to make as close to reality as possible. I have been thrilled by all the attention the book and movie have brought to NASA’s journey to Mars and I am excited to see what is next for the journey.
**For full disclosure – Fox paid me a fee to attend this event and paid for my airfare and accommodations. My posts about the movie are my own views and opinions and were not required as part of this agreement. I have donated the payment to the nonprofit I founded The Mars Generation as I do not personally take a fee for the outreach work I do as Astronaut Abby. I am passionate to help change the world through The Mars Generation and look for ways to share the progress we are making on the Journey To Mars whenever possible.