Whether it be social, recreational, or professional, some of what represents me is here. Post a comment, or contact me at should you so desire.

The posts are in reverse chronological order, and are pegged by topic on the links to the left. For more of an introduction, please see the About this site page listed above.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Mars NOW: Looking at One-Way Missions to Mars

All human space exploration, to date, has been designed to return the crew to Earth upon conclusion, but is that the only way to explore space? Mars One has been seeking to answer this question through their proposal to send humans to Mars, one-way, there to live out their lives and settle the Red Planet. Is such a mission plausible? Is it ethical? The premise of one-way missions to Mars was the basis for my team project at the International Space University and one which I’m happy to share with you now. Read on!

For those who prefer the audio/visual experience, our 1 hour presentation can be found here, but was not posted here due to bandwidth limitations. Simply contact me via the email above, or contact the rest of the Mars NOW team at To accompany this, and speak more about the experience, I've written that which can be found below. I've reflected greatly on the process of our project, but for the shorter note on our findings, please read our executive summary, which can be found at

The team consisted of 17 Masters-level students, from 16 nations, with backgrounds in engineering, physics, medicine, architecture, and international relations. We embodied the ISU’s 3Is of International, Intercultural, and Interdisciplinary. With the same premise as listed above, our team worked from October (2013) to May (2014), delivering a literature review, project plan, final presentation, final report, poster, and executive summary.

I took an active role in the project right away, chairing the first meeting, and soon after I was elected one of the two project managers for the team. I was happy to have been chosen and looking forward to working with such a diverse team on such an interesting topic.

The literature review was a learning experience for all involved. Many had never performed such a task before, but even those who had realized months after how they could have done better. It was one of those assignments where hindsight was indeed 20/20.

One of the major assumptions gained through the literature review is that one-way missions would lead to settling Mars. Unless the plan was to send one small group and then abandon the quest for Mars, one-way missions necessitated a long commitment, which must lead to self-sustainability of the humans on Mars. To do otherwise would not only be more challenging, but more demanding of Earth and its resources. This assumption meant that one-way missions involved everything from pre-mission preparation, all the way through to the long-term challenges of settling Mars. Narrowing the scope of our work was our next big challenge.

This was the aim of the project plan. We had certain “external” deadlines set by the ISU, when our big deliverables were set to be completed, but how were we to manage our time? I thought it best to break the work and our time into 3 phases, concentrating on the Preparation, Early execution including the first steps on Mars, and Settling Mars aspects, but the other project manager, Robert, disagreed. He thought this would be too limiting and unmanageable. We went back and forth. The team went back and forth. Even after making a vote, the phased approach barely won. However, presenting this plan to the faculty proved its undoing. The faculty was not convinced and thought we should narrow ourselves to a few key questions, instead of phases. This was the low-point for our team. We were frustrated, we were not getting anywhere, and we were losing time. Morale was at an all-time low. We set goals for ourselves, but it was difficult to stay on track.

Robert and I set aside ample time to bounce back from this slump, and many of us enjoyed a trip to Russia in the meantime. When we got back, we had to work overtime to catch up, but we all seemed to have gotten the rest and perspective we needed to get this done. We worked hard over the next two months, producing our best work.

The final report ended up being 140 pages long, and went through over a dozen iterations. Submission of the final report was nerve-wrecking as it was being supervised by the entire team and our lead formatter’s computer was super slow. Several times, the work froze, closed, and reopened, all to our dismay, but thankfully nothing was lost. It was a stressful but relieving moment when the final document was sent, minutes before the deadline.
Mars NOW Final Report Cover Page (2014)
Only a week after that, the team submitted  poster and executive summary, which more illustratively and concisely discusses our work. If you’d like to learn more, please go to where you can read the entirety of our executive summary.

Mars NOW poster (2014)
Final Presentation
As the year progressed, so too did my comfort and familiarity with both the team and the subject matter. I started opening up more with my teammates and one of the ways I did this was through the use of silly voices and odd humour. This made long work sessions easier but it also had the interesting side-effect of having the team ask me to volunteer for the final presentation team. They thought it would be a good idea if I led the presentation, acting as host. I laughed at first, saying that I couldn’t use much of my comedic material for such a presentation, but they were confident that I could make it interesting as well as professional.

Made happy by their remarks, I worked hard with the rest of the presentation team, most of whom hadn't changed since the literature review presentation. We made our slides and practiced. We wrote speeches and practiced. We practiced, and we practiced. The rest of the team, not worrying about practicing, really came together to help make our slides impressive. They made slides, formatted them, and added over 35 backup slides to aid in the question and answer period. As a manager, it felt really nice to see everyone working hard, and together, one final time.

The big day was finally upon us, and we knew we were not only presenting to the faculty and our peers, but also streaming the presentation over the internet, to be seen by any interested party all over the world. I am not sure if this made my teammates nervous, but I for one was not made anxious by this grand audience. Rather, I was excited, and looking forward to presenting something which could be seen all over the world.

The presentation was made in the Boeing auditorium, with flags of many nations surrounding the stage. The faculty was waiting and after a brief introduction, the microphone was handed over to me. I wore my very best: black slacks and suit jacket, purple dress shirt, Eldridge knot tie, shiny gold vest, and pocket watch.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to a very special team project presentation here at the International Space University...”

I was a little nervous at first, not by the audience, but because everything I had to say was important and I had to make sure it was all in the right order to make the presentation move smoothly. The rest of my team did very well, presenting their material with a calm, practiced attitude. I enjoyed watching their performance, as if for the first time, and noted the looks of interest on the audience’s faces. I cherished my turn to speak because it gave me a chance to connect with the audience again, and I made sure to make eye contact with certain people in the audience as well as speak to the people watching via web-cast.

Toward the end, our other project manager warned me that we still had almost 10 minutes left. Being too much under the requested time can be just as bad as being over, and I knew that my practiced conclusion only took 3 minutes. With a nod and a smile, I drew things out. I discussed the ramifications of our findings and conclusions, and stressed my words, emphasizing what I was saying.

All in all, it was a very successful and enjoyable presentation. I concluded around the 55 minute mark with a bow. Several additional members of the team joined us for the question and answer session, and we handled it very well. It was very relieving to be finished. I was very thankful for the hard work put in by our team, and I received several very generous compliments on our presentation and on my performance. I was very grateful to hear such excellent reviews of my presentation style.


After enjoying the other team’s presentation on using space assets to aid with human migration, we had a final ISU party. Wine and food was served, and everyone was chatting about the presentations, the ISU, and upcoming internships. For some, it was a chance to say goodbye, or so long, as they were leaving to begin other adventures. For myself, it was a chance to relax and enjoy the moment, to feel comfortable and happy with all that had been done. There were a few loose ends to tie up, final formatting of the report and such, but for the moment, I was done.

The team was required to submit an abstract to the International Astronomical Conference, which is taking place in Toronto, Canada, in late September, and I’m pleased to say we were accepted! There are several of us on the presentation panel, and instead of 1 hour, we only have 15 minutes, but I am looking forward to presenting our work to other important people in the field.

I have learned quite a lot during this project. Obviously, I learned a tremendous deal about one-way human missions to Mars, the challenges, opportunities, and limits involved, but I also learned a lot about myself. I learned more about my leadership style, and working in teams. It wasn’t always easy; I had management experience before, but this team was larger, more diverse, and the workload was intensive. There were many long nights, and some disagreements, but I think I proved a valuable member of the team, and overall, I really enjoyed the experience. I know now how to be a better leader, and I know more about managing the time and attention of such a group. I hope to carry this knowledge and experience with me, and I know this project will help make me a more valuable contributor to the space industry, wherever I end up.

It’s difficult, and often disheartening, to try to summarize big projects into shorter posts. Doing so often undermines the sheer amount of work involved, so let me just say that I am very proud of our team and I am grateful and appreciative of all the long hours, careful attention to detail, and hard work we put into this project. It was an honour working with you.

And it was a pleasure recounting it for you today. Thank you very much for reading. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me here or through the Mars NOW website.

No comments:

Post a Comment