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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Alexandra Grassian (04/28/04)/04)

On Monday, we talked with Commander John W. Young. Commander Young is a professional pilot and aeronautical engineer, and he is still a part of NASA. Commander Young was on six missions to space. He was first on Gemini 3, then Gemini 10 where they tested various instruments, like the computers, and maneuvers, docking and rendezvousing. The third flight was Apollo 10 in which they went into orbit around the moon, the lunar dock separated, then they rendezvoused; it was essentially a dress rehearsal for the next mission, Apollo 11, while looking for various landing sites on the moon for Apollo 11. Commander Young was Spacecraft Commander on Apollo 16, along with Mattingly and Duke. Commander and Duke landed on the moon and tested various scientific equipment. They also used a lunar rover over the highlands of Descartes. The landing site was a smooth plain. The geologists at NASA had expected to find volcanic rocks, but, rather, they discovered that in fact they were produced by impact deposits, then the impact ejecta from the basins comes in and smoothes it all over. He was also Spacecraft Commander on his next mission, which was the first flight of the Space Shuttle, and again on his next mission.

Commander Young first talked about the speech George Bush made to NASA, which he witnessed personally. He told us that Bush discussed exactly what NASA's job is. Commander Young frequently stressed the importance of learning as much as possible about Mars, for many reasons. His main reason was that we will soon (he stated 2050 as the critical date) deplete all our resources on the Earth. We will need more energy very soon, as more people are getting cars everyday. We will need to find other ways and places to get resources from. Also, he firmly believes that single planet species do not survive for long – we need only look at the dinosaurs to see how fragile a species really is. Unfortunately, he also stated that we will have to make much progress before we can think about sending people to Mars, let alone setting any sort of permanent residence there. One critical issue is finding a source of power on Mars. Solar power is a possibility, at least until a more permanent solution can be found.

Commander Young's answers to the first few questions really surprised me; they were so unlike anything we had heard from the other speakers. He seemed so sure about his answers. He was the first one, though, to give us a straight answer for why, exactly, we need to continue exploring Mars and the rest of the planets. But was such a negative view of what will eventually come of our planet, and really the human race. He did agree that it is very important that we try to sustain Earth as much as possible, but that we really need to spread people around the solar system so we'll be safer in the case of a meteor hitting the Earth. He did not think that the tendency of humans for wanting to explore was a valid reason – after all, we already, essentially, “know what's over the next hill.”

As for the actual logistics of the first mission in which we send humans to Mars, Commander Young thought it would be important that the crew first goes to the Moon to test the equipment, and then continue onto Mars. He did say, as Dr. Garvin did, that redundancy was essential in a mission like this – were any piece of equipment to fail it would be almost impossible for the crew to survive. In addition, it is imperative that the crew knows how to work every piece of equipment because, due to the time lag, they would be unable to contact anyone on the Earth if there was a problem. He also told us that a Mars mission was an all or nothing thing, unlike the first mission to the moon when people landed. There would be no precursor missions, at least none with humans. This is because it just takes so long to get there that if you're going to send people, you might as well actually land them on the planet. I agree with this – while I do not know that much about the actually process, it seems like the knowledge we gained from going to the moon would make this a lot easier, and the precursor missions might not be all that necessary, as long as we get enough data from the rovers.

All in all, I thought this was a very informative discussion, mostly because of how much in contrasted with our prior ones. It was nice to get the point of view from someone who has seen many aspects of the NASA program.


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