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Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Dava Newman and Jeff Bezos
Arizona State University’s Lindy Elkins-Tanton and MIT’s Dava Newman face the camera during Amazon’s MARS conference. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is in the giant drone behind them. (Lindy Elkins-Tanton via Twitter)

Which is more viral, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos getting buzzed by a robotic dragonfly, or Bezos buzzing in Lift Aircraft’s Hexa passenger drone?

Those are just a couple of today’s highlights from Amazon’s annual invitation-only festival in Palm Springs, Calif., celebrating Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. As usual, we’re on the outside looking in, based on tweets with the #MARS2019 hashtag and reports from those on the scene at The Parker Resort.

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University, has emerged as the most reliable tweeter about the MARS goings-on. She’s the one who tweeted out a video clip of Bezos keeping watch amid a crowd of attendees as a robo-dragonfly flitted around the conference grounds. She also shared imagery showing Bezos in the driver’s seat of Lift’s ultralight aircraft at the Palm Springs Air Museum.

The moments echoed Bezos’ viral photo op with Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini robo-dog at last year’s MARS meeting, and his grand entrance in a giant robot to kick off 2017’s event.

So far, flying contraptions have been dominating the MARS goings-on. But there’s lots more to keep watch for, including the occasion celebrity sighting.

We know that “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill is there because he shows up in the background of a selfie from gravitational-wave researcher Chiara Mingarelli:

We know that retired NASA astronaut Story Musgrave, one of the spacewalking saviors of the Hubble Space Telescope, is also in attendance — thanks to a couple of tweets from Wobbly Labs game developer Robin Baumgarten:

Another former NASA astronaut, Mike Massimino, tweeted a selfie in a flight simulator for NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule. (He and others no doubt took advantage of MARS’ policy of not charging admission for astronauts.)

Attendees are getting in on a wide assortment of demos and tech talks, with plenty of time for geeking out and partying down. As you can expect, there’s an emphasis on what Amazon is doing on the tech frontier, and what Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is doing on the final frontier.

“Our goals are simple and remain unchanged from the first event,” Bezos wrote in his welcome to this year’s fourth annual MARS conference. “We’ll consider this gathering a big success if you find something inspiring, make a new friend or two, and — most important — have some fun!”

After three years of MARS, Bezos and his Amazon teammates are planning an open-to-the-public version of the conference, called re:MARS, from June 4 to 7 in Las Vegas. But the fact that this week’s event is hush-hush and invitation-only adds a sense of mystery that re:MARS may find hard to match.

Check out the tweets below to get a taste of the MARS magic.

This is an updated version of a report first published at 9:20 p.m. PT March 17. I’ve corrected a version that listed Elkins-Tanton as a planetary scientist at “Amazon State University.” The Seattle-based retailer is known for moving aggressively into new markets, but not quite that aggressively. Thanks to Rami Grunbaum for pointing out the error.

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