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 (02/18/04)

This week we covered a brief history of Mars exploration, the progression of findings, the prospect of life on Mars and a little bit on the Sagan/Mayr debate before Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson came for the big discussion, which constituted the bulk of the class.

I must say that I was and still am quite surprised by the number of theological issues raised by the prospect of extraterrestrial life. It is something I had never really considered to be a serious issue before. I find it amusing that passages in various religious texts can be interpreted to imply the possible existence of aliens. It makes me wonder if the authors of those texts unconsciously wondered about the possibility of life on the stars. Clearly they had little to no knowledge of astronomy; I wonder if it really is a natural human tendency to seek out “company.” No one wants to be alone.

This all is beginning to remind me very much of the days of exploration centuries ago, when the “New World” had just been discovered. In a way we are yet again discovering a new world—a new planet. And we really don't know what's out there; we have our educated expectations, of course. But then too, back in the day it was easy to assume that the world was flat. As such, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the truth is much more bizarre than anything anyone could have imagined. Basically, this feels like Chapter Two of exploration and discovery, and some of us are still expecting to sail off the edge of the world. As an aside, I can't help but facetiously wonder if religious missionaries will be among the first people in space if intelligent life is found anywhere.

I come from a non-religious background, so I don't have many insights as far as the religious issue goes. I am also very ignorant. My greatest knowledge of organized religion comes from history textbooks over the years. As such, it was interesting to hear about all the different religious stances, and it was nice to see that most everyone was open-minded about it all. Janet Cooper Nelson was very enlightening. I especially liked the psalm she shared about how man is practically charged by God to pursue knowledge. It also made it very clear to me how subjective the religious texts are—the Bible has also been quoted to warn man about being too arrogant, to tell him that he should be content with his ignorance and not question the ways of God.

The issue of “other life” makes the most sense to me in terms of New World and Old World, actually. I think that the level of (hypothetical) communication between species will depend fully on the equity of technological prowess. While humanity has progressed enough (for the most part) to accept something as minor as differences in skin color, I question whether or not it is ready to accept a “separate but equal” species.

We can see by the “March from Mars” score and “War of the Worlds” that there is fear, curiosity, inspiration, fanciful hostility and very little assurance regarding life on other planets. I am not sure that mixing these basic emotions will result in a favorable outcome. With the fairly recent globalization movement, the world's population is approaching a state where it may be able to intelligently deal with life on other planets—although I am inclined to doubt because the world's population can barely deal with itself intelligently. I even doubt that fifty years will change this, although it's true that fifty years ago schools were still racially segregated.

I wish we had more time to discuss the Spirit and Opportunity discoveries, but fortunately there wasn't too much going on at the time. Overall, I enjoyed listening to everyone's inputs, and while it wasn't exactly what I was expecting out of an “Exploring Mars” seminar, it's nice to see how flexible the class really is.



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