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 (04/28/04)

This week Professor Head was in France. How random is that!? The weather there sounded nice. Sometimes this class reminds me of the Magic School Bus or something, only with more emphasis on the vicarious rather than the concrete. Anyway, we started out with an update on the Spirit and Opportunity activities. I think the names they have for the various rocks are hilarious. At least, “Route 66” is much better than the unfortunately christened “6701500,” even if it was a very cool rock, as described by Professor Head, who appears to know 6701500 quite personally.

I thought John Young was very, very interesting. His rather bleak view of the future of the Earth sounded like a secular impression of apocalypse, which at first had me inclined towards skepticism. We are used to a steady rate of change. But then it occurred to me that we are not exactly dealing with a steady rate of change. Population growth is exponential, and with that will come an increased accumulation of problems that are associated with overpopulation. It's already happening—many areas of the world are in complete ruin. From the comfortable vantage point of America, this is easy to miss. It is also difficult to comprehend what mass suffering, poverty, and death is. And while certainly the world's population of humans was always suffering in some country or another throughout the ages, the fact of the matter is, we are running out of room now. With global warming, the melting of the polar ice caps and reversal of oceanic currents that regulate weather, the climate will surely change, and in such a way that the carrying capacity of the Earth—already stretched pretty thin—will be exceeded due to food shortages and regions rendered as uninhabitable as the Gobi Desert. People will die and there may be technological regression and it COULD result in the decline of civilization as we know it. In that sense, I can see where John Young is coming from. And in that sense, it's perfectly logical to designate Mars as the future of mankind. One other thing that I found very interesting was Young's emphasis on natural disasters. When asked about the effectiveness of clean energy and sustainable development as a means for extending the lifespan of humans on Earth, he mentioned super volcanoes and asteroid impacts as examples of unforeseeable and devastating catastrophes. This man is determined to view Mars as the future, and you need unswayable people like Young in order to get anything done. They are movers and shakers because they don't question their final goal. Young didn't even concern himself with the possibilities that the right technology simply does not exist; he simply stated that with enough funding, something could be worked out.

That said, I doubt that people will be living on Mars anytime soon, although it will be interesting to see what happens. The issue of funding seemed so petty while Young was basically outlining the destruction of the planet Earth. If indeed human survival comes down to getting people to Mars, would the world be able to unite in this one common goal?—in which case, funding would be completely arbitrary. The difference between Young and David Scott is that Young seemed willing to take whatever he could get if it would help the Mars effort. Scott said the president's initiative was ill-advised, but Young refrained from making judgmental statements regarding anything that could lead to funding for Mars, however ill-advised or inadequate it may initially be. That makes sense, though. His idea of an “all or nothing” mission may be pushing it too far though. Young doesn't seem like a guy who'd rather be safe than sorry (although by no means would he be recklessly foolish) but he'd be cutting it awfully close to put all his eggs in the “all or none” basket.
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