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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Alana Firl (04/21/04)

First of all, that was really neat about the inaccurately located lunar craters that form an ‘XV' on the Apollo 15 patch.

In a way, I feel that humans are very lucky to have the Moon “nearby” because it will provide valuable practice for the Mars expedition. Will they do long expeditions on the Moon to simulate the amount of time spent on Mars/going to Mars? I wish I had thought to ask this when we were talking to Dave Scott. It would make sense to practice long expeditions on the Moon, because it looks as though a very daunting prospect about going to Mars is simply the amount of time that will be involved. It's difficult to predict what will happen during an 18 month vacation through outer space to a planet that no human has ever set foot on. The Moon could at least provide an idea of what that will be like.

One thing that always makes me feel uncertain is the cost of all this. I liked the question about Dave's real opinion about the Bush Space Initiative. Bush seems to have little concept of what going to Mars would entail (then too, he doesn't seem to have much concept of what anything entails) and I suspect that whatever funding he does allocate to NASA, it won't be sufficient to get a well-equipped Mars mission off the ground. In some ways, I am tempted to say that it would be best to wait for better technology before ambitiously setting an expedition date. Then too, complacency slows things down; it's ambition that sets things in motion.

At first I thought it was incredible that everyone stayed calm during the crisis with Gemini 8. Wouldn't anyone panic if their surroundings started spinning at a rate of 1 rev/s? And being in outer space had to make it even worse. Then it occurred to me that these astronauts were very familiar with the spacecraft. Keeping in mind that Dave seems to have a knack for understatement, they solved the problem very procedurally: diagnose the problem, find the source of malfunction, and fix it. They went through a very methodical process to do this—checking the obvious things, then shutting it all down and activating the reentry control system, and landing in the South China Sea. This actually reminded me of doing a math problem. If you aren't familiar with the material, you can be given a difficult problem on a test and completely panic. However, if you know the principles of the subject and you're given a similarly difficult problem, it becomes more like a game of trial-and-error than anything else. Of course, math tests do not tend to be life-threatening or physically nauseating, but the situation is at least somewhat analogous.

Personally, I see going to Mars as a step in answering the question of where we all come from. No one really knows how the solar system got here, or why we exist, but it's possible that Mars can at least begin to address these questions. We've really only studied one planet in depth, and that is the Earth. We still don't know the exact geological history of Earth, but it will be valuable to compare notes with whatever we find on Mars. It's a shame you can't propose a bill requesting billions of dollars for the sake of solving where we all came from, instead you have to obscure the issue with suggestions of military defense and political gain in order to make people want to fund the exploration of Mars. It baffles me that people would not be fascinated by the prospect of studying another planet. We all live in this universe and we have limited time here; why would anyone be content to live a repetitious, routine life of ignorance and oblivion to their surroundings (however removed those surroundings may be), when there is so much more to be discovered?


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