NASA's newly appointed administrator, Jim Bridenstine, will make a major speech at the Humans to Mars Summit in Washington, D.C., which takes place today (May 8) through Thursday (May 10).
Bridenstine will speak Wednesday (May 9) at 8:35 a.m. EDT (1235 GMT). He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 19, ending a 15-month stretch without a permanent NASA administrator — the longest such period in agency history by far. [How Will a Human Mars Base Work? NASA's Vision in Images]
In the intervening time, the Trump administration tasked NASA with returning humans to the moon before going to Mars. But the agency still sends a regular cadence of robotic missions to the Red Planet, including the NASA InSight mission that launched Saturday (May 5).
Another highlight of the conference will be a panel session from several people involved in "The First," an upcoming television series on Hulu created by Beau Willimon ("House of Cards"). Starring Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone, the show follows an astronaut crew as they become the first to land on Mars. Participants will include series actress LisaGay Hamilton, space shuttle astronaut Michael López-Alegría (a technical adviser on the show) and Amy Webb (a futurist consultant for the show).
Other sessions will include a congressional panel discussion, a discussion of key decisions needed to get to Mars, critical Mars science, the economics and manufacturing of space exploration, artificial intelligence and Mars simulation.
Generally speaking, the Red Planet has been a frequent topic of discussion in space news in the past year. The debate over recurring slope lineae — features that may or may not be linked to liquid water — continued, with a late 2017 study postulating the dark streaks may just be dry sand. And earlier this year, NASA's Curiosity rover found bizarre shapes embedded in rock that likely are a sign of ancient crystal formation in water, although the circumstances of their formation are under debate.
SpaceX launched its first Falcon Heavy rocket on a successful test mission in February, a few months after company founder and CEO Elon Musk detailed the latest plans for an even larger rocket, which he hopes will one day help establish a Martian colony.
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) also are continuing work on Martian rovers for launch in 2020. NASA's is called Mars 2020, and ESA's rover will be flown there as a part of the European-Russian ExoMars program.
The Humans to Mars Summit is the annual conference of Explore Mars Inc., a nonprofit organization that aims to make humans a multiplanetary species — and to make crewed Mars missions a reality by the 2030s. The goal of the conference is to bring together various communities (such as scientists, entertainers, government workers, industry representatives and academics) to discuss hardware developments, partnerships, space policy changes and other relationships to further human exploration.