Andrew Baum (03/24/04)
This class session was a close second, maybe first, favorite in my opinion of our classes so far. I am the type of kid who likes common day problem solving, not like calculus, but who likes to figure out many ways, or more efficient ways, of getting things done. For this reason, I thought this weeks class was fascinating because we discussed just how much thinking goes into a site visit to Antarctica, and how they prepared for and got around many of the pressing problems. With that introduction, lets get to my thoughts.
The first I heard about the Antarctica mission was Professor Head telling us about his extensive physical. I thought it was pretty funny, but I guess necessary in order to make sure participants are healthy and won't have any complications while in Antarctica. I sort of compare them to astronauts in that they have to be super sterilized and in tip top condition because there will be little help if something were to go wrong. (On a side note, talking about wisdom teeth made me remember that I am going to spend my spring break getting my wisdom teeth out…although unfortunately it is not for a trip to Antarctica.) When Professor Marchant said that a main reason they take dental records is so that in the event of an accident, you can be identified. That made me wonder just how many accidents they have…especially if that is the main reason for taking dental records! Also, if it is so unsafe, why don't we figure out a way to make it safer…if we can get people safely to the Moon, we should definitely be able to get people safely to Antarctica. We then started talking about the psychological effects of this journey. I thought it hilarious that Professor Marchant kept comparing it to a prison; that you are so isolated that it makes people nuts, and antisocial, which can lead to problems for the team. As he was telling us this, moments from the movie The Shinning kept popping into my head. It is a perfect example, maybe a little stretched, of how isolation from society can lead to craziness. As we were talking about not having everyday things down there with you, like TV, radios, etc., I thought that was very appropriate. I believe his philosophy that you need to immerse yourself in the environment if you want to truly understand it better. It also got me thinking whether I would be able to mentally “make it” on one of these excursions. I wondered what I would bring and how much “stuff” I could squash into that wooden box. I look at what I am taking home this weekend for a one-week spring break, and it is already bigger than that box! I could never do it. I guess when I thought of Antarctica, I often times thought of icy, snowy, penguin infested land. When he showed us pictures of Antarctica, I was surprised to see the dry valleys with no snow on them, very rocky, and no penguins. It gave me a new way of thinking about that pole of the planet.
Then Professor Marchant got into how he “tests” his prospective team members to see whether they would be good for the mission. This was my favorite part of the class. Hearing about the psychological tests that he does, like the window test, makes me wonder how often I am put, unknowingly, into a test of that sort. Next time I go into an interview for something, I am going to think twice and analyze everything the other person says. “Too cold?…let me open the window. Too hot?….let me close it!” Also the way he puts a lot of stress on them and then asks for more was an interesting test. I wonder if I have ever been in a situation like that….because I sure am stressed out a lot. When he got into how important being a team player was, it seemed as if it was paralleling the Survivor series television show. It seemed like they were looking out for each other all the time, though. I am glad that he puts in so much effort to choosing his colleagues. I would probably do the same exact thing. I thought the story of the relationship that went sour over the course of the journey was amusing…plus, I was surprised to hear that it was not a rare occurrence. The trip to get there sounded all too familiar to me. I know the feeling of having to be crammed into a tiny little area with no personal space….maybe not for 8 hours…but at the camp I went to every summer, van rides to other camps was sure not a fun trip. I don't really understand why they have to squash everyone in the plane like that…is it a safety precaution? What would be the problem if people were slightly more spread out? I was also surprised to hear that people's perception of objectives changes with different locations, but I guess after thinking about it, it sort of makes sense. If you travel somewhere with different customs and policies, the way you act and think do change slightly as you begin to get used to the new lifestyle.
When Professor Marchant was describing the survival school, I was pretty interested. I didn't think something like that actually existed. When he described how they had to build forts by burying their luggage and then pulling it out, I was amazed. I thought that was such a cool idea, and it is great that they have certain tests they must pass in order to survive in Antarctica. I am sort of curious as to what other survival tests they had to complete, or learn about, in order to pass the school…probably more than was necessary for garbage school! Even the little things amazed me. I wonder if people thought of these precautions before the first trip to Antarctica, or if someone made a mistake, and everyone else learned from it. For example, placing the helicopter fuel closest to the door of the aircraft. Was there an accident where that became an issue, or did people just plan really well for everything that might happen? I was slightly shocked that there was no doctor or certified medical assistance that went on the trip with them. I just figured that they would be a good resource if something bad did happen (like the incident where the student slipped on some ice). I like the “leave nothing but footprints” philosophy. I think it is respectful, and also wont ruin the experience for anyone in the future, especially considering that the environment is so, that everything left there stays there. I don't know if I could go one whole day with only a one-liter nalgene bottle to use as a toilet. How you guys did it is a mystery to me. I finally gave a little thought to what happens when these students/ team members go back into society. I would imagine that it is a very difficult experience. After being so long in isolation from society, manners, cleanliness, etc…I imagine it would take some getting used to to get back into the swing of things again.
One final thought…I agreed with what Professor Marchant said about robots and how they compare to using humans for exploring. He said that if you are going to use robots, you must anticipate what you are bound to find, so that it can accurately interpret the information. With humans, you are able to see new things and interpret them to make new discoveries. The only problem I have with this is that on Mars currently, there are only these robots, no humans, yet we are making several new discoveries every day. Granted there are some things that I am sure we wished we had sent up there with the rovers to use for other tests, but nevertheless, we are making new discoveries. I just wondered how Professor Marchant would respond to that statement? I agree that humans are better explorers than robots, but I think in time, there will be just as many benefits, if not more, to using robots to explore vs. humans.
On another side note, I am going to finish the music of Mars over the course of Spring break….yes…while I am bed-ridden with extracted wisdom teeth. I should have a CD to bring into class on the following Monday. Professor Head, I will send you an email over break to see if you have any speakers/ CD player, and how we can arrange to hear it in class. Have a great spring break everyone and I will see you in two weeks.