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 (05/12/04)

Today was the last class and we had debates, as well as watching a delightful animated interpretation of the Signal From Mars march.

Basically, the main points in support of presidential leadership for a NASA space program were that 1) funding could be provided quickly; 2) bureaucracy could be avoided; 3) partisanship would be bypassed; 4) historical precedence shows the necessity of presidential leadership with Kennedy's instrumental leadership in the successful mission to the moon. The subject of national pride was also brought up in support of a presidential initiative.

The main points in support of a Congressional oversight of a NASA space program were 1) Congress is there to prevent partisan biases of national agendas; 2) most of NASA's successes were completed without presidential leadership; 3) the president often does not have a good concept of what is required for space travel; 4) America has no money to spend on space travel.

I cannot say which thesis I am more in favor of. They both have their flaws. Definitely a large problem with NASA's budget is that the funding frequently does not come quickly enough, in which case it is best to avoid the whole process of proposing a budget and have it undergo all the reductions that will be imposed upon it by the inevitable opposing faction. Having the proposed funding pass intact is vital because an underfunded space initiative is quite likely to fail, and thus all will be completely lost. It is not so important that the president know what he is funding, as long as he provides enough money and freedom for the NASA project managers to work with. Then too, the president may not always have rational goals for space exploration. He may provide the funding with the stipulation that a military presence be established on the planet, which is absurd of course but would have to be followed if the funding were to be used.

I think both theses are too flawed to be viewed as realistic ultimatum for the space program. It seems like yet another repeat of the Cold War is taking place here—albeit a much friendlier version of it, but a repeat nonetheless—with many nations all working on the same monumental project of launching a successful mission to Mars. Certainly a space race will increase the urgency of the research and technological advancements, but think of all the wasted funds—money spent on the same research for each national agenda. Perhaps this is completely unfeasible, but a mission to Mars should be more of a global project. The US is short on funds and it would be foolish to spend billions on the space initiative with the national debt already so ridiculously high, but if it were a global effort, then the collaboration would save money for everyone and increase the rate of progress, as we would not only be pooling money but also knowledge and technology.

There are flaws to this proposal as well. The first one is that it is too idealistic to ever become feasible. The world's nations would all have to agree on an identical purpose for going to Mars, which if this is at all influenced by politics, will be completely impossible. Science really needs to remain separate from politics, but when an issue as colossal and expensive as space travel comes up, it's quite unlikely that politics won't be a factor.


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