Here is my report on the conference.

This was the 2nd conference I attended and was very similar to the previous one
(Toronto). The plenary sessions, both morning and evening were of high quality.
The individual presentations were somewhat hit and miss, some were excellent
and others were less so. The evening banquet was, well, the evening banquet.

I attended the conference with my brother Martin and was able to hook up with
Jonathan and Shannon. This gave us the ability to cover the various tracks and
compare notes. I am grateful to Martin for providing me with room and board,
thereby avoiding the space deprivation experiment foisted on Jonathan and
Shannon by Stanford U.

There were slightly fewer attendees than last year. All age groups were
represented from students on up to retirees but was mostly white and
overwhelmingly male. Some of the audiovisual preparation could have been
better; some presenters had power point or other computer based presentations
that were not able to be projected, and the overhead projector in the main
auditorium kept turning itself off. Others, such as the German balloon
simulation, and the ISS video were excellent.

The plenary session on the first day covered some interesting topics.

The next habs are proposed for Utah, then Iceland, then Australia.

Elon Musk, a dot com millionaire may donate some money.

Dr. Mike Griffin of Orbital Sciences Corp. spoke on what was needed to get to
Mars; the big issues.
1) Heavy lift launch capability.
2) Mars suit.
3) Closed cycle environment.
4) In situ resource utilization
5) Nuclear power (and maybe propulsion)
6) Infrastructure (communications, mapping, navigation)
7) Understanding the effect of 1/3G on humans.
8) Reduced launch costs.
Some of these are not affectable by the Mars society (1, 5, 6, 8), the others may be.
Bob Z. is proposed the "Translife" project as a way of advancing goal 7.

The panel discussion on terraforming that evening brought out some deep
philosophical differences between the participants: Bob Z. Chris McKay, Sam
Burbank, KSR (Kim Stanley Robinson), and Gus Frederick. The points of view
ranged from the terraform-of-course-lets-help-that-Martian-life-along (Chris)
to the we-shouldn't-even-mine-the-moon (Sam), from Zubrin's pro capitalist
views to KSR's neo-marxist counter point "Ideology is an imaginary relationship
to a real situation...". Gus provided a Gaian world view and Maggie kept
things moving. Members of the audience asked questions, made statements, and
one overly exuberant young woman gave a speech and did a little dance. It made
for a lively evening, seeing intelligent articulate people discuss the issue
even though as KSR pointed out, it is highly unlikely that any of us will end
up of Mars. (The exuberant young woman disagreed).

My favorite statement that evening was "With all due respect to the laws of physics...".

The second day plenary session discussing the Mars Exploration Rovers that are
due to land in January 2004 was given by a NASA rep and was informative.
Topographic, color coded maps of potential landing sites were shown, including
one that would be in Valles Marinaris and permit a view of the cliffs. If this
mission succeeds it will be very impressive. The presentation on the fossil
traces of life in the Martian meteorite was weaker. Even though we got nifty 3D
glasses so we could see how the magnetite lined up (supposedly a sign of
biological origin), it still looked pretty random to me.

Day 3 had a great talk by Shuttle commander and astronaut Eileen Collins. She
presented an amazing video of life in the ISS and demonstrated that astronauts
are trained for public speaking as well as for flying space ships. Pascal Lee
presented research done on Devon Island and a very together Anna Paulson from
Michigan U. discussed the construction of the Mars analog rover.

The evening banquet was more evangelical. Money was raised, awards were given
and songs were sung, including the "Mars" song by Patrick Lee's girlfriend (I
forgot her name, but still remember the song). Mars itself made an appearance
slowly transiting across the night sky behind the speakers.

The food was good, the chocolate cake was very good and the weather was perfect.

A gift certificate of $2,000,000.00 towards the purchase of fuel cells and
drive electronics was given to the Michigan U. rover group and $5,000,000.00
for similar equipment for the habitats was given to the society. Now, that's
what I call a gift certificate!

Eventually the mike was opened for anyone to give their point of view. I left
after the we-need-more-sales-and-marketing speech by one of the attendees.

Overall, it was informative and I had a great time. I would go again.

See you on Thursday. I'll bring my conference book in case anyone wants more
details.

Cheers,

Groff