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 (04/14/04)

First off, I would like to thank Dr. Garvin for speaking with us in class yesterday, and taking time off from his vacation. I thought it was fascinating to hear his perspective on many current issues surrounding NASA, and particularly the Mars exploration missions.

Dr. Garvin first spoke about how they are trying to be conscientious about not polluting other planets. He showed the slide of the Martians protesting our arrival on their planet. I think this is a serious concern, which ahs been a problem thus far in space exploration, despite the hard efforts of NASA to prevent it. I wish there were some way to retrieve the space shuttles, orbitals, rovers, etc. after we have sent them up to explore. As it is right now, we are just leaving the rovers up on Mars after they gas out on us. What does NASA think is going to happen to them? They certainly wont just disintegrate over time. They are cluttering up Mars planet and thereby polluting it. Yes, maybe they are running on environmentally safe fuel, or not emitting any by products from the fuel, but the case remains that the entire rover will be left to clutter up the planet when all is done. I wish there were some way to get around that.

Dr. Garvin next moved into what evidence and information we have been able to retrieve from Mars indicating that there may be water, and therefore life on Mars. Parts of his lecture reminded me about Professor Head's lecture on the climate changes of Mars. He mentioned polar caps, how water ice may exist somewhere, the state of the Martian core, and the necessity to understand the dust on Mars. He used the example that while looking for sulfonates in Mars soils, they found carbonates. There is still so much to know about Mars, and what it possibly has to offer to us someday as a neighboring planet. He explained a bit of what technology are on the 5'2” rovers including a camera, arm, spectrometer, rock abrasion tool, microscopic imager, etc. The newest goal set forth by NASA is to get to the Columbia Hills. They will, or rather could potentially offer information about land shifts and possible glaciers, water passages, channels, etc. suggesting there was once water on Mars. He mentioned the bedrock outcrop with spherules (blueberries) and evidence of eroded crystals, which had been dissolved away by water. Some of the rocks had layered formations suggesting that they were laid down in a shallow salty sea at one time or another. This was very strong evidence for the presence of water on Mars.

Concerning the issue of whether we should send humans to Mars, I have given much thought to this in my previous responses. After hearing Dr. Garvin speak to us about the whole intended mission, I feel even more so inclined to support the mission. He described his hopes of how to move quicker, perform more tests, handle human safety (launch and return), and be overall more productive on the mission. These were all concerns of mine, so because they were addressed, I am more inclined to be in favor of the mission. Read my previous responses for more information on this topic because I have covered it pretty extensively.

I thought it was rather amusing when his response to “what do you hope to find on Mars?” was, “I would like to find a festering microorganism colony!” He believes that he will find evidence of past life on Mars, but also hopefully evidence of present life too! He mentioned that they have designs for spacecrafts, which aren't as efficient as he would like them to be. I think it is great that they are already designing drafts of spacecrafts so that they have plenty of time to detect flaws with it, and continue to improve its abilities. He was also excited that Antarctica is becoming better known as a site for “Mars Practice” in a sense. It is the closest thing we have to Mars without manufacturing it ourselves. I was interested to hear that they may be sending astronauts there so that they can practice how to explore and study the environment when they go to space. I think that is a great idea because if we are going to spend millions and billions of dollars to send them to Mars, they should be darn well experienced in what to do when they get up there! I'm sure they will be.

If we do find life, we will be looking for things such as a sample of the genetics of the life form. I was surprised to hear how concerned he was with bringing something back that could contaminate the Earth. I never really thought about that before, but now that I do, it a very legitimate concern. I guess we have to be very careful of what we bring back to earth, especially since we have no idea, really, what is on that planet, and whether it may be harmful to us on Earth. In fact, how would they make sure that it was safe for humans to go up to Mars in the first place?

Finally, I was shocked to hear that of the 100 billion dollars spent over the past 10 to 15 years, only 5% of that was dedicated to science. Most of it went to engineering the space shuttles and such. I thought that was a very surprising statistic and was surprised that he even told us that information anyhow. When he was telling us how he would convince congress, he mentioned that our worldview changes with knowledge that NASA has brought to us and we should continue to let them help. He told us to look at nations that haven't explored at all, look where they are. We don't want to be there. I thought that is a pretty convincing argument. I think that approach is a solid one that should be incorporated into an argument on the mission's behalf.

Thank you once again to Dr. Garvin for taking time to speak with our class…I think I speak on behalf of the entire class when I say it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Thank you. See everyone next week.

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