Geo016 - Exploration of Mars

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Geo016 / Exploration of Mars / (M) 3:00-5:20 / Lincoln Field 105 / Prof. James Head

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Andrew Baum (04/21/04)

We began the class by examining the patch the represented the Apollo mission. This was one of my favorite parts of the class, because we got to learn the hidden message in the craters. I feel honored that out of about 25 people who know the significance of that, I can be one of them. VERY COOL!

Speaking with David Scott was quite an honor also, being that I do not get that opportunity every day. He told us a brief background about his mission, and mentioned that it was for three days and three nights (that he stayed on the moon). I thought that astronauts usually stayed up there for weeks or so. I know it takes a while to travel the distance between Earth and the Moon, but I figured that they would stay longer at their destination. I was surprised to hear him say that we are unable to build a spaceship with every technology on it, that can do everything we want it to. He said they must be specialized. I was wondering why that is, that we can't find a way to engineer everything we want to into a single spacecraft. One reason that we wouldn't want to do that is if something happened to it, the mission would be lost. For example, if we had everything on one rover, and when it landed on Mars, it crashed and was destroyed, there is nothing we could do about it. If we spread out the technology on different spacecrafts though, we have a better chance of having a successful, or partly successful mission.

He told us that he was a big fan of the antenna on his rover, which broadcasted to a TV back on Earth. He mentioned that the people back on Earth would often times help them with things that the astronauts may have encountered. For example, one time they left a bag on the ground, and the people at home noticed it, and then notified David.

David explained many tests and experiments he had done on the moon as well. He showed us a picture of the Silver Spur, which showed layers on the rocks surface. Did this prove that there was water, or something other discovery about the Moon? I thought it was rather amusing that he decided to do the hammer and feather dropping test. The picture was a bit blurry, but still funny to think about. I guess that shows that the laws of physics and Galileo's theory are true even on the Moon! As he rapped up his discussion on the Moon, I was surprised to hear him say that he thinks people need to live on Earth no matter what. I thought that he would have been optimistic about extending our life out to other planets, but I personally agree with him. I think Earth is the place for us, and we should stay here…as long as we keep it clean! I am interested in his book, and hope to get my hands on it some time. Maybe I can borrow it from Professor Head some time because I would really love to read it. While he mentioned his book, we also got him to say a few words about the Gemini “disaster.” I was shocked to hear how relaxed he was about it. It was apparently “no big deal” for him. Had I been up there and had the problems he did, I would have been pretty freaked out. Ha…..I guess that's why I am here on Earth. I will always know who holds the record from landing 6,000 miles away from the target.

Then we moved into discussing Mars exploration, and how he felt about that. He told us that a typical lunar mission lasts about 32 months, and a mission to Mars would last a significant amount of time longer. He said the suits would be about the same as a lunar mission, but the rovers might be a problem. He explained the freezing idea, which interested me, and made sense, but something I had never really thought about before. This was the idea that they need to freeze software/ hardware designs when they are created, and need to build them so they will be ready for a mission several years later. However, by the time the mission is ready to go, there may be better technology which they won't be able to use. Making a change later on would cause everything else, or at least many other things to change at the same time. If they are on Mars, and wanted to have a TV communication system with them, he said the difference would be the signal would take a lot longer to send and receive from Earth. This means that the crew would have to make decisions on their own, and the people on Earth would be advising in a more general way. I remember when I found out that the signals currently coming back from the Rovers were on a large delay, I was very surprised. I thought that we would have the technology to send a faster signal or something. I am still rather curious as to how we are controlling them on Mars if we are seeing what is happening days (weeks?) after it happens. Just how long is the delay?

David said that the media will be a large part of the mission, and the will have to support it in order for it to be a success. I agree because the media is soooooo influential in out society. If they don't like something, the mindless masses wont like it either. People are so easily convincible and easily persuaded these days. The media would have to support the mission if it was going to be a success.

I was glad to hear that they would have a physician aboard the spacecraft on a mission to Mars. I remember that no doctor went to Antarctica during the field studies, and was rather disappointed. I know that if I went on a mission to either Antarctica or Mars, I would want a doctor there in the event of an emergency. Maybe this is my chance to get on the flight to Mars…..I can be the doctor!

Before the end of the discussion, he talked a bit more about the Moon. He said it was the most stunning thing you could ever imagine. The sunbursts of light coming over the horizon, watching Earth from miles and miles away, and looking at the clear starry sky would be amazing. I unfortunately don't know if I will ever see something that spectacular. The story he told about the POW camp and how the Americans rubbed it in that we were on the Moon. I thought it was great that astronauts went and spoke to them about the advancements also.

I was also wondering why he didn't answer Jon's question about those who didn't believe in the landing on the Moon. Was he joking around, or did he just not want to deal with it. After all, it could be very frustrating if someone doubted the validity of your whole life's work. It was funny that he joked about it at first, but then kind of strange that he never actually answered the question.

The last two thoughts for this class were David's remarks that people should go to the Moon before going to Mars, and that the Bush initiative is ill-advised. I agree that people should get the experience of space travel by going to the Moon before they go on the super long mission to Mars. It will give them a chance to see whether 1) they are capable of handling the mission and 2) whether they really want to go at all. As far as the Bush's initiative, I was sort of surprised to hear him say that he was no tin favor of it. But at the same, I agree that things should not be rushed. I discussed this concept in my last week's response. We need to have a well thought out and well-planned mission so that we can assure ourselves that it will be successful.

Overall, I thought this class was an opportunity to get a different perspective on the issues surrounding a mission to Mars. It was very helpful and interesting for me. (I enjoyed being outside….we should do it again some time!)


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