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KCSLUGs on Mars….

KCSLUG club members became Mars Explorers for an evening on Tuesday May 14, 2013 – by attending the presentation: EXPLORING MARS: THE NEXT GENERATION. The program was held downtown Kansas City at the Kauffman Center as part of the National Geographic Live series. The event was well-attended and extra seats were sparse, so we were happy to have our event tickets ahead of time. The Kauffman Center was beautiful and something to behold, but first – let’s talk about the Mars program.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer Kobie Boykins was our guide for the evening. Kobie worked at JPL for a number of years, and amongst his responsibilities were the design and testing of the solar panels that powered the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Kobie had lots of energy, display items and Mars program information. There was never a dull moment for any of us as he easily kept the program lively, informative and moving throughout the evening.

As part of his presentation, Kobie shared sets of outstanding slides and videos related to aspects of the Mars program. We looked at component design and testing, launch operations, mission support, in-flight controls and maneuvers, views of Mars before entering its atmosphere and overviews of multiple techniques used to touch down safely on the planet’s surface. Kobie used maps to walk us through various routes and landscapes the rovers traveled on the Mars surface. He explained about the differences in terrain between the routes and a little bit about the activities and experiments conducted along the way.

Kobie talked about the search for evidence of water once existing on the Mars surface, and how scientist hope that discovery may eventually lead us to finding traces of life having existed there at one time or another. Mention was made of future trips to land humans on the red planet, but Kobie explained that the science isn’t entirely in place for such a mission to safely occur within the current decade – but maybe the next?? Kobie concluded the program by fielding audience questions – doing well to respond to inquiries from children and adults alike.

All in all, the program was a success. The topics were interesting, the presentation materials were outstanding and our informed presenter communicated easily with the audience. And as for the program venue, well – the Kauffman Center is a jewel. It was easy to find, lots of covered on-site parking was available and there were volunteers in blue vests everywhere to answer our questions and help guide us in the right direction. The National Geographic Live series will return to the Kauffman Center next year, so be sure to visit the Kauffman Center web site to learn more about those upcoming programs.