Why go to Mars?

The Derry Dialogues

November 14, 2016 from 6pm to 7:30pm

Richards Building, Room 2520

Mars. The Red Planet. It’s over 54 million kilometers away but has been, for a millennia, close to the human imagination. We’ve peered at it, dreamed about it, flown by it, and even set foot on it (robotically speaking).

Why is this speck in the sky so important to us?
Why go to Mars?

On Monday November 14th, through presentations, a panel discussion, and questions from the audience, we are going to explore Mars.

In this the inaugural Derry Dialogue, we are going to ask: Why are we going to Mars? Should we go to Mars? What will we discover there about the planet and about ourselves?
And who better to be our guides then a Canadian astronaut, two internationally renowned researchers who worked on the Mars Rovers and contributed to sustaining life in space, and a leading academic who advises NASA’s astrobiology program.

Dr. Robert Thirsk, Astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency from 1984 to 2012 and Chancellor of the University of Calgary
Dr. Mike Dixon, Director, Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph
Dr. Ralf Gellert, Associate Professor, Department of Physics, University of Guelph
Dr. Linda Billings, Consultant to NASA's astrobiology and planetary defense programs, National Institute of Aerospace
Moderated by Dr. Sofie Lachapelle, Professor of History of Science & Acting Associate Vice President (Academic), University of Guelph

The Derry Dialogues, made possible by the vision and support of Margaret and Douglas Derry, embody the idea and values of interdisciplinary approaches to the big issues of our time. The speakers in this annual series reflect the values of the University of Guelph and are engaged in holistic, rigorous, and interdisciplinary engagement as much in the public arena as in the academy.


About the panel members:

Bob Thirsk
Dr. Robert Thirsk was an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency from 1984 to 2012 and was in space for 188 days during his second voyage.  He holds a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, a Doctorate of Medicine and a Master of Business Administration.  He flew as a payload specialist aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-78, the Life and Microgravity Spacelab (LMS) mission in 1996 and performed numerous international experiments devoted to the study of life and materials sciences under space flight conditions. In 2009, Dr. Thirsk became the first Canadian astronaut to fly a long duration expedition aboard the ISS where he performed multidisciplinary research, complex robotic operations, and maintenance and repair work of Station systems and payloads. Dr. Thirsk resigned as astronaut and left the CSA in 2012 to join the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Ottawa.  As Vice-President of Public, Government and Institute Affairs, he oversaw the thirteen institutes dedicated to specific health care issues such as aging and cancer research. In 2014, Dr. Thirsk retired from the federal government and began a four-year appointment as Chancellor of the University of Calgary. For more information: http://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/astronauts/biothirsk.asp

Linda Billings
Dr. Billings is a faculty at George Washington University in the School of Media and Public Affairs with a PhD in mass communication.  In her work, she does communication research for NASA's astrobiology program in the Science Mission Directorate. She also advises NASA’s Senior Scientist for Mars Exploration and Planetary Protection Officer on communications.  She was a member of the staff for the National Commission on Space (1985-86), appointed by President Reagan to develop a long-term plan for space exploration. Dr. Billings is a member of Women in Aerospace (WIA) and served as an officer of WIA for 15 years, most recently as its president (2003).  For more information: http://lindabillings.org/aboutdr.billings.html

Mike Dixon
Dr. Dixon is a Professor and the Director, Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph. His research deals with life support in space - more specifically the applications of ozone technologies in the remediation of hydroponic solutions and the disinfection of food processing equipment and grocery store produce; biological filtration of indoor air; nutrient management and recycling in controlled environments; contributions of plants to life support, including the technologies and management strategies required to achieve sustainable and bioregenerative life support for human space exploration; sensor technologies and development; applications of fibre optics in tissue culture plant propagation systems as well as safe delivery of UV radiation for sterilization applications in domestic drinking water; development of biodegradable root medium for greenhouse production systems; integrating 3-dimensional vision technology with robotic systems for horticultural management; robotic harvesting; atmosphere management - investigating the technical complexity of simultaneously controlling pressure, temperature, humidity and gas composition under a fully closed system. For more information: https://www.uoguelph.ca/ses/users/mdixon

Ralf Gellert
Dr. Gellert is an Associate Professor in the  Department of Physics at the University of Guelph.  His research focuses on the development of hardware and related analysis software for instruments for planetary exploration. Currently Dr. Gellert's group is working mainly on three projects: the Mars Exploration Rover mission, theMars Science Laboratory; and, for future planetary exploration, the group is investigating further improvements of the APXS method and the instrument. For more information: https://www.physics.uoguelph.ca/people/faculty/ralf-gellert


Sofie Lachapelle
Dr. Lachapelle is an historian of science and Associate Professor at the University of Guelph.  She is also the acting Associate Vice-President Academic. Her recent monograph “Conjuring Science: A History of Scientific Entertainment and Stage Magic in Modern France” (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) explores the relationship of science, magic and entertainment in nineteenth and early twentieth-century France, focusing on the world of conjurers and magic shows. Dr. Lachapelle is presently working on the history of scientific toys and amusing science for children and collaborating on a project dealing with the relationship of opera, vocal pedagogy, and medicine in late-nineteenth-century France. For more information: https://www.uoguelph.ca/history/history-sofie-lachapelle