The WeMartians Blog

Other items of interest from the fourth planet

We’re just a few days away from the launch of NASA’s next flagship mission to Mars – the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover! Curiosity’s successor is set to kick off an ambitious Mars Sample Return campaign, look for signs of life, and demonstrate some experimental exploration technology. We want you to watch this historic launch with us during our first YouTube livestream event!

Jake will be joined by past guest and Professional Martian Dr. Tanya Harrison, who returns to WeMartians to co-host this launch event. We’ll be live on the Off-Nominal YouTube channel at T-40 minutes before liftoff, which is currently scheduled for 7:50 AM Eastern Time (but that can always change, so check the current launch time to be sure).

Co-Host – Dr. Tanya Harrison

Dr. Tanya Harrison, Professional Martian

Dr. Tanya Harrison is a planetary scientist and the Manager of Science Programs at Planet Labs. She operated cameras on the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity as well as Curiosity.

Special Guests

As we wait for the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket to take off, we’ll cover the mission’s highlights, compare it to Curiosity’s and explore its quirks. To help us, we’ll be joined by three expert guests.

Dr. Alexandra Pontefract

Dr. Alexandra Pontefract

Dr. Alexandra Pontefract is an Assistant Research Professor and Astrobiologist from Georgetown University. She’ll tell us all about the search for Life on Mars and why Perseverance is well-equipped to go after such big scientific questions.

Dr. Nathan Williams

Dr. Nathan Williams

Dr. Nathan William is a Geologist and Science Systems Engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He’s be telling us about Ingenuity, the companion helicopter that will demonstrate the first powered flight on another planet ever.

Phillip Hargrove

Phillip Hargrove, NASA Launch Vehicle Trajectory Analyst

Phillip Hargrove is a Launch Vehicle Trajectory Analyst with NASA’s Launch Services Program. He’ll be talking about planning a seven-month trip to Mars and how to fire a rocket in just the right way to land on a specific spot on Mars.

Watch with us!

We hope you’ll watch the historic Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover launch along with us! Subscribe to the YouTube channel to get the notification when we go live, and be sure to sign up on our mailing list to get updates on this event and all that Jake does!

Ad Ares, Perseverance!

Catch Up with our Mars 2020 Podcasts

About six weeks ago, through our joint Off-Nominal Podcast, my friend Anthony Colangelo from Main Engine Cut Off and I decided to act and do our part in fighting systemic racism in space and STEM. Because Black Lives Matter.

I outlined some of the gaps in space, how I need to do better, and our plans to change and improve the world around us in this blog post. The first part of that plan, a fundraiser for Black Girls Code and the Banneker Institute is now complete, and I’m so proud to announce the impact we’ve made.

Early in our fundraiser, our friend Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut, as well as two anonymous listeners, stepped up to match donations our listeners made. Thirty days later, we had received 130 donations from WeMartians, MECO, and Off-Nominal listeners, and we’ve collectively raised $34,386.42 for these two organizations. Here’s a breakdown of the impact:

Black Girls Code

  • Listener Contributions: $7,398.70
  • Matching Contributions: $14,010.72
  • Total Raised: $21,409.42

Banneker Institute

  • Listener Contributions: $3,444.00
  • Matching Contributions: $9,533.00
  • Total Raised: $12,977.00

Contribution Information

  • Total Donations: 130 + 10 Matching Donations
  • Average Listener Donation Amount: $84.05

These results will live on our donate page, as well.

We are absolutely blown away by our listeners. We’re just two small independent podcasters and our listener base is my no means large. And yet, you’ve stepped up in an incredible way. We as a community have said loud and clear that we will not tolerate inequity in space. Space is for everyone, and we will continue to work to ensure that is more than just a platitude.

The Work Must Continue

In the original blog post, I mentioned some additional things we were planning once this fundraiser is over. Over the last six weeks I’ve been busy diversifying my sources of News, primarily on Twitter but also in the events I’ve been doing and watching and blogs I’ve been reading. The diversification is really important – Twitter, for example, is how I learn about many new guests and expand my network of contacts who ultimately end up on the show as guests.

In the near future I’d like to share the cool people I have already been discovering. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed to stay in touch, or sign up for our newsletter.

Thanks again for everything you’ve done for this fundraiser – we literally could not have accomplished so much without you. I’m so proud to do what I do, and I couldn’t ask for a better community to do it with.

For the last two weeks I have been watching the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and demonstrations against police violence in the United States, Canada, and around the world. To me they have been shocking, but to many these sights are all too familiar.

I struggled for some time understanding how to help. If I spoke up, would I be taking space from a more meaningful voice? Would I be making these events about me and not the victims? Am I actually trying to help or just absolve myself of the shame I feel?

This indecision coupled with the overwhelming realness of everything that has happened made me pause longer than I should have. But I realize now that it is no longer good enough to just not be a racist. I must be anti-racist. With that clarity, action becomes non-negotiable.

We have work to do

In our world of space exploration and space science, there are some startling racial disparities that must end. Consider these statistics:

  • A 2011 Study by the American Institute of Physics reported just 1% of the Planetary Science workforce is Black or Latinx, despite those groups comprising a quarter of the US population. In 2012, they reported only 2% of the Astronomy workforce is Black.
  • In engineering it isn’t much better. The American Society for Engineering Education reported that only 4.2% of all Engineering degrees were awarded to Black students in the US in 2018.
  • Since NEAR Shoemaker in 1997, not one Black Principal Investigator across fourteen NASA Discovery-class missions.
  • Since New Horizons in 2006, not one Black Principal Investigator across four New Frontiers-class missions.
  • On the entire science leadership team for Curiosity (9 instrument PIs, plus the program and project scientists), not one Black Principal Investigator.
  • Not one Black CEO at Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Arianespace, Thales Alenia, Rocketlab, RSC Energia, Airbus, Raytheon, Honeywell, Planet Labs, Intuitive Machines, Astrobotic, Masten Space, MDA, Maxar, Ball, RUAG, Intelsat, or Iridium.
  • A total of 339 American astronauts have travelled to space. Only 14 of them were Black.
  • There hasn’t been a Black astronaut on the International Space Station since 2009, and none have ever flown a long duration mission.
  • Not one Black Center Director for all ten NASA Centers.
  • And it took the first and only Black President to get the first and only Black NASA Administrator.

I’m not just here to throw shade, either. I took a look in my own backyard and examined the guests I’ve had on this show.

  • There have been 115 guest appearances across all five seasons of WeMartians. Only seven were BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour).
  • All eighteen guests of Off-Nominal were white.

Space needs to do better, and I need to do better. The best time to act was ages ago. The second best time is now.

So what are we doing about it?

It’s easy to call out injustice, but it’s another thing to do something about it. I’ve been working closely with my Off-Nominal co-host Anthony and engaging with our Discord community this past week to come up with a plan.

Many of these initiatives were developed not just by me and Anthony, but in partnership with the Patrons and listeners of our three podcasts. I’m proud that this is a community-led effort.

You can learn more about our joint plan in this short podcast in the Off-Nominal feed, reading our joint message, or by reading about it below.

  1. Our community is putting on a fundraiser to support two Black organizations whose missions we believe in. These include:
    • Black Girls Code – BGC empowers girls of colour ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology. Code plays such an integral role in both aerospace engineering and science that it’s hard to overestimate how important organizations like BGC is.
    • Banneker Institute – Banneker provides ten week summer research and study experiences to undergraduate students of colour to prepare them for graduate programs in astronomy. As one of the least diverse of the sciences, anything we can do to give underrepresented peoples an edge will pay off.
  2. Anthony and I are matching all contributions made by our listeners until July 10th, 2020 to a maximum of our July Patreon income. Donate directly with these organizations and send your receipt to donate@offnominal.space.
  3. Our community is working on building some resources to help find and give exposure to Black contributors in the space community and the work that they do, including a Twitter follow list and a list of books written by Black authors in an upcoming space book-sharing application. More on these soon.
  4. We are committing to providing more space on our platforms for BIPOC guests.

I am inspired by many who have spoken much more eloquently on this. Last February, I spoke with Tanya Harrison at the Women in Space Conference in Phoenix. She told me something that has stuck with me ever since.

The science that we do is not separate from the people that we are.

Tanya Harrison, 2019

It helps me remember that it isn’t possible to just do space. To properly engage with this topic and this community, it’s necessary to engage with all of it, its good bits and its bad.

It was said best by Lauren Lyons from SpaceX, who after covering DM-2, recalled a blog post she wrote in 2014. She had just processed the decision by a grand jury not to indict the officers involved in the murder of Eric Garner, and she did it heading into the Orion EFT-1 event the next day. The parallels to DM-2 are obvious, and the words are just as applicable today as they were then, and forever.

We all bear the burdens of the crimes and sufferings of both our ancestors and our neighbors. The people that will one day populate the surface and caves of Mars are the same ones bearing the cultural traumas of our dark and bloody roots. And the DNA of these roots will follow us, like poltergeists, to whatever exoplanets we run to.

So let’s stop running. Let’s wrestle with this. Let’s get dirty. Let the brightest minds of the day step down from their thrones and engage. Engage in not only what inspires us to greatness, but also what reflects our deepest failures as a species.

Lauren Lyons, 2014

I’m sorry I took so long to speak, but I hope we can still make a difference together.

Last year we introduced the very first WeMartians Mission Patch, celebrating our third season of podcasts (2018). It featured the fantastic artwork of Beth Kerner and highlighted some of the great themes we explored on the show that year. It was a great success, and so naturally we asked Beth to help us out again for Season 4.

You can pick up your Season 4 Mission Patch in the WeMartians Shop now! It’s just $17 USD with free shipping anywhere on Earth (but Mars is extra, unfortunately). If you’re a Station-level patron, your discount applies!

Introducing the Season 4 Mission Patch

When we looked back at 2019’s episodes there were a couple of strong themes that I wanted to explore on the patch.

Return to the Moon

With the 50th anniversary of Apollo and the announcement of the Artemis program, the Moon is once again the shiny new thing! We explored this at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in our episode about Apollo samples, with a great conversation with Casey Dreier about the policy shift, and our coverage at IAC2019 and the unveiling of Blue Origin’s National Team, which recently won a contract to develop their Moon lander.

Women in Space

Women had a big year in space in 2019. Jessica Meier and Christina Koch conducted the first all-female spacewalk on the International Space Station. Beth Moses became the first woman to fly to space on a commercial spacecraft. At WeMartians we covered the 2nd annual Women in Space Conference in Phoenix and met a ton of great guests. And 2019 was a banner year for women on our show – thirteen amazing women taught us about science, engineering and more.

Combo Pack with Season 3

We’ve still got some of the Season 3 patches left.

If you missed that one, you can get it now for the reduced price of $12 USD. Or, pick up both the Season 3 and Season 4 patch together for only $25USD. It’s a great deal! And how can you say no when Naiad looks so pleading?!

Space Kitten Naiad says “Buy these patches!”

The Artist: Beth Kerner

I met Beth at the NASA InSight launch down at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California (we both got to “see” the launch, a tale I tell in Episode 41). She does some pretty incredible design work including unique mission logos and patches, like this awesome InSight one:

Plus, Beth and her twin Kathy have matching Spirit and Opportunity rover tattoos, and if you don’t think that’s cool then leave the website immediately.

You should check out Beth’s website, and if you think she’s awesome (you do) you can even sign up for her Patreon. At the $10 level, you get awesome stickers and other goodies in the mail! Or, head over to her Redbubble shop and pick up some sweet swag.

Thanks for your Support

I hope to do this every year, allowing our listeners to collect the stories of our shows through time in a fun memorable way. So if you decide to pick one up and sew it somewhere cool, please send me some pics! I’d love to see where you show your love for Mars. 

Your support goes towards helping me do more with this show, and it helps an amazing artist like Beth to keep making great space art. It’s a win-win!

This month, NASA will launch the long-awaited inaugural Commercial Crew Flight – SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, which will take astronauts Bob Benhken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station.

The mission is a decade in the making and will be the first time astronauts launch to orbit from the United States since the final Shuttle flight in 2011.

To celebrate, NASA is bringing back the classic NASA Logotype, better known as the “Worm” Logo. It looks great on the side of the Falcon 9!

The NASA Worm on the side of the Falcon 9 bringing astronauts to space.

We’re celebrating too, and have come up with a new shirt design so you can sport the imagery yourself on launch day. We’re calling it Dragon Worm, and it’s available now in the WeMartians Shop for just $19 USD.

Grab it today and support the shows!

A little over five weeks ago I announced my crazy but exciting decision to leave my job and build a freelancing career. Since then a lot has happened. I left my job, we kicked off a #GoingPro Patreon campaign, and I began a web development bootcamp that is teaching me the skills I need to go forward. It’s been hectic and amazing all at once.

#GoingPro was a smashing success. We blew past our patron goal of 150 (which got you a fancy video tour of the Off-Nominal Studios West, see below), and cruised right up to our 200 patron milestone. The final 36 hours was fast and furious – we counted down on Twitter and closed the 15 patron gap with fanfare. It was overwhelming and incredible and I can’t be more appreciative of the support you’ve all given me.

A video tour of the Off-Nominal Studios West, where I record all my podcasts. This is a reward for hitting 150 patrons.

So what’s next?

I’m going to quiet down a bit about money and focus on the work I have to do.

If you’re a patron, look for an announcement shortly for the Ask Me Anything podcast, a reward for hitting 200 patrons. You’ll be able to contribute questions for the show! If you’re not a patron, don’t worry, you’ll still get to hear it in the main feed in addition to our regular episodes

Otherwise, the podcasts are going to continue as normal for a bit. I’m deep in some education to learn web development skills, which will be necessary for the next step of #GoingPro. Until the Spring, you won’t notice too much different about WeMartians. This is of course all possible because of your generous support – this podcast is now my only source of income!

Future Goals

We’re keeping our other Patreon milestones up for the long term.

Once we reach 250 patrons, I’ll make a special narrative history episode about the Atlas rocket, which has a storied history in Mars exploration.

Once we reach 300 patrons, I’ll do a narrative history on an old Mars mission itself, voted on by the patrons. It should be a fun research project that I can’t wait to get started (so join now if you haven’t!).

So for now, just sit back and enjoy WeMartians and Red Planet Review!

Tell Others

With our fundraising drive complete, the most important thing you can do now is share the podcast. We need more listeners! So tell a friend about the show and share it on social media or reddit. Every new listener is another member of our community!

Thanks for a great #GoingPro campaign! Ad Ares!

Celebrate SpaceX’s Starship vehicle with our new THIRTYSEVEN t-shirt design. It features the business end of the new Super Heavy launch vehicle, all 37 methane-powered Raptor engines on full display.

The shirt is available in both men’s and women’s cuts, in four different colours each. You can pick it up now at the WeMartians shop!

The shirt is a follow on to our bestseller TWENTYSEVEN, featuring the Falcon Heavy rocket. Thanks to SpaceX for keeping the engine count similar!

We’ve still got our #GoingPro sale on now until January 3rd. Use the code GOINGPRO to get free shipping on any order of 2+ items. And if we may say so, the two SpaceX shirts go great together as a matched pair, or maybe a his and hers?!

Thanks for supporting the WeMartians podcast as we head into a bright future!

We’re coming up on the fourth anniversary of the first ever WeMartians episode. Since then, we’ve interviewed astronauts, watched spacecraft leave Earth, and met the NASA Administrator. We’ve built studios together and partnered with my friend Anthony to create the Off-Nominal podcast. Growing this hobby into what it is today has been a wild ride, and I have so many ideas to make it bigger, better and more interesting. But balancing continued growth of this hobby alongside a regular career is extremely challenging.

If it remains a hobby.

My first microphone, purchased in December, 2015.

The bottleneck to a bigger and better WeMartians has almost always been time. I’ve done interviews at 5AM (including one just this morning!) just to squeeze it in before work. I’ve locked myself in my studio through entire weekends processing audio, and used vacation time in order to travel to conferences and launches. It’s been possible, but not easy. The threat of burnout has been nipping at my heels for probably years now.

I’ve done a lot of soul-searching these past few months, and it became increasingly clear that something had to give. My life could not continue doing both the podcast and my day job, and so I made a terrifying, crazy decision.

I left my job.

A Career Change

For the past 11 years I have been working for the electronics retailer Best Buy, most recently as a manager for a small team that operationalized their quirky services division (Geek Squad) for the Canadian markets. At Best Buy I had a remarkable and fulfilling career that has given me a tremendous amount of confidence and a skillset that I think will be invaluable as I look to make this podcast into a real business. They have great people, and they made me a great person, too.

I was a company man.

With Best Buy behind me, I went looking for work with two distinct characteristics. I want to keep building skills that will help me make a better product here at WeMartians, and I want a job that I can do flexibly. I want to set my own hours and do the work from home or wherever I happen to be. For me, that job is web development. And so starting in January I’m off to top up my education, skill up in the workforce, and start building a freelancing career, of which this podcast will play a prime role.

It’s tremendously exciting for me, if a little scary. But just like in space, nothing extraordinary was ever achieved without a little risk.

What does this mean for the show?

For now, expect very little change. We’ll still be publishing WeMartians (roughly) every three weeks and our Red Planet Review show every week. But you might notice some dodgy consistency in the days and times as I work to build a whole new career from scratch.

Finances will also be tight for me in the short term (but don’t worry, you can help – see below). So some immediate impacts that long time listeners will notice will be a reduction in travel (no LPSC for me this year), as well as no WeMartians Travel Grant awarded in 2020. These are tough sacrifices for me, but I see them as essential for the long-term future.

Hopefully by the summer things will start to get back to normal, and then the real work can begin.

How can the listeners help?

WeMartians is a listener-funded project, for which I am eternally grateful. Now more than ever, I will depend on that funding; in fact, starting in just a couple of weeks, money I earn through the Podcast will literally be my only income.

And so to celebrate this exciting milestone for me (and to help plug some of the holes in my balance sheet!), I’ve set up some limited time offers for listeners to join in and invest in this show.

Patreon Goals

Over on Patreon, I’ve set up some new exciting milestones for patrons and listeners if we reach certain goals over the next year. This time, the goals are focused around rewards for you. If we reach certain quantities of supporters, I’ll be creating bonus content for everyone to enjoy. From a video tour of the Off-Nominal Studio to audio documentaries on rockets and Mars missions, there are some cool stuff in there! You can read about them on our Patreon page.

Patreon Special Offer

If the goals don’t excite you, I’m also sweetening the deal for anyone new who signs up on Patreon as well as anyone who upgrades their pledges. For a limited time (until January 3rd), you’ll get a bonus perk for joining up or upgrading your pledge to the $5 level: a handwritten postcard from me, including a shoddily drawn Mars spacecraft and some WeMartians and Off-Nominal Stickers!

Merchandising Offers

We’re also hosting a great sale in our newly redesigned shop this month. The Black Friday Sale is winding down tonight, but starting now you’ll get access to a whole new offer – free shipping anywhere on Earth if you buy any two items! Just use the promo code GOINGPRO.

I’m broke but I still want to help!

No problem. There’s actually something amazing you can do if Patreon or a purchase in our shop doesn’t float your boat. Tell a friend about us!

Most podcasts spread through word of mouth and exposure on other podcasts. Consider writing a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your show. Post your favourite episode on Facebook or Twitter. Or, seriously, just tell a friend you think might like us. It goes a long way in building the listener base.

This is just the beginning

WeMartians & Off-Nominal are the most fulfilling and incredible projects I’ve ever done. Thousands of you now tune in for each episode, something I am incredibly grateful for. I am so excited to step in to this new future together, and I hope you’ll all come along for the ride.

Ad ares!

Well, it might not be as cold as it is on Mars, but winter is here, and that means so is Black Friday!

We’ve got a site-wide sale on all WeMartians Merchandise! From Nov 27 to Dec 2, enjoy 10% off everything in our shop! Use the code BLACKFRIDAY19 to unlock the deals.

Enjoy all sale pricing on all of our tees, including classics like BRB Going to Mars.

We still have some limited stock of our WeMartians 2018 Mission Patch, featuring exclusive art by Beth Kerner.

The Rosalind Franklin Rover is headed to Mars next summer, and it needs to call home with all it’s awesome science! The Trace Gas Orbiter, featured on our ExoMars Technicolour design, will help!

Don’t forget to pack your Winter Space Helmet for those long nights in Vastitas Borealis.

And of course, our all-time bestseller Twenty Seven, featuring the engine configuration of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, the most capable rocket flying today.

Black Friday prices are over at midnight Monday night, so be sure to take advantage now!

When I started putting together this podcast in late 2015, I forced myself to come up with a mission statement. I don’t talk about it a lot, but I use it to keep on track and focused as we continue to grow, change, and move forward into the future of Mars exploration.

Our mission statement? To engage the public in the exploration of Mars in a fun, simple, educational and inspiring way.

Today, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time is coming to life. We’ve got our mission. But every mission deserves a mission patch.

This is the Season 3 (2018) commemorative WeMartians Mission Patch. We’ve partnered with space fan and talented graphic artist Beth Kerner to put together a custom, 4-inch, sew-on embroidered patch. It’s limited edition, with a print-run of just 100. And you can get one for yourself starting today! They’re just $17 USD, and shipping is free anywhere on Earth (Mars is extra, though). If you’re a Station-level or higher patron, your permanent store discount applies, too!

The patch captures the broad narratives of our third season of podcasts. It includes the Falcon Heavy inaugural flight, the InSight launch and landing, and the global dust storm that ended the Opportunity mission.

The Artist: Beth Kerner

I met Beth at the NASA InSight launch down at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California (we both got to “see” the launch, a tale I tell in Episode 41). She does some pretty incredible design work including unique mission logos and patches, like this awesome InSight one:

Plus, Beth and her twin Kathy have matching Spirit and Opportunity rover tattoos, and if you don’t think that’s cool then leave the website immediately.

You should check out Beth’s website, and if you think she’s awesome (you do) you can even sign up for her Patreon. At the $10 level, you get awesome stickers and other goodies in the mail! Or, head over to her Redbubble shop and pick up some sweet swag.

Thanks for your Support

I hope to do this every year, allowing our listeners to collect the stories of our shows through time in a fun memorable way. So if you decide to pick one up and sew it somewhere cool, please send me some pics! I’d love to see where you show your love for Mars.

Your support goes towards helping me do more with this show, and it helps an amazing artist like Beth to keep making great space art. It’s a win-win!