Comic-Con International isn’t a science conference, but you wouldn’t be able to tell at Ballroom 6, which hosted over a thousand people there to see NASA astronauts, scientists, and engineers talk about a mission to Mars.
NASA’s first foray into the singularity of nerdom that is Comic-Con was a rousing success. Celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 splashdown, second man on the Moon Buzz Aldrin, NASA planetary scientist Jim Green, NASA astronaut Mike Fink, and JPL systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi (“Mohawk guy”) were joined by actor Seth Green at the packed panel. The reception couldn’t have been more positive.
Much of the panel centered on NASA’s plans for future Mars missions. Engineer Bobak Ferdowsi spoke about the agency’s timeline to send another robotic mission to the red planet. Specifically, the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket are in development right now, and will have the capability to bring much heavier payloads much further, eventually spear-heading a human mission to Mars. In the meantime, NASA is eyeing-up asteroids as potential proving grounds.
Around 2019, NASA will send a robotic spacecraft that will retrieve and redirect an asteroid to orbit around our moon for human testing. Called the Asteroid Redirect Mission, landing humans on an asteroid near Earth will help us prove technologies that will help us get to Mars, such as solar electric propulsion.
For planetary scientist Jim Green, getting humans to Mars couldn’t be more vital. “A single-planet species is not destined to survive,” he explained to the crowd. “Let’s take the necessary steps…the solar system is ours!”
Robots have been and will continue to be critical to the effort. Buzz Aldrin made the point clearly: “What was done by the first Mars rovers in five years could have be done by a person in one week. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.”
For his part, Seth Green was maybe the most excited person in the room. Not only was he visibly enthralled by the discussions happening on the panel, he was incredibly knowledgeable about space and space exploration in general. “I am a HUGE space enthusiast,” he declared when opening the panel.
The audience was buzzing. Comic-Con may not focus on science, but the passion was there, hiding within the fandoms of the attendees. When what must have been a 7-year old girl asked Buzz, “What inspired you?” the crowd sighed in appreciation and adoration. “Higher, faster, further,” Buzz replied.
Everything the NASA panelists discussed was part of the agency’s “Next Giant Leap”—the missions and technologies that will get humans to our sister planet Mars. The panel also announced that the Conrad Foundation would also be hosting a contest called “Giant Leap to Mars,” where participants can write and illustrate comics book covering the technologies and ideas for a manned Mars mission, with the winner having their comic book published.
After the amazing reception, it was pretty obvious that NASA will be coming back to Comic-Con. “It’s a perfect fit,” said Jim Green. “NASA is where science fiction and science fact meet.”
“We’d love to come back.”