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 (05/05/04)

On Monday, we had a class discussion. We started off by discussing our teleconference with John Young. Many people noticed that unlike the other people affiliated with NASA whom we have talked to, John Young really did stress the importance of using the moon in conjunction to exploring Mars. He suggested using the moon as a stepping stone when flying to Mars, and also maybe getting resources from the moon and/or Mars to use both in space and here on earth. He also clearly distinguished between his short term and long term goals.

In the short term, he thought it was important that we investigate the ice that is probably at the poles of the moon and see if we can bring it to Mars to use as water there for when we actually have humans exploring. Also, there is most likely oxygen in the soil of the moon, and that too would be very useful to bring to Mars once we begin human missions to Mars.

In the long term, though, Mars needs to become self sufficient so that in the event of something drastic happening to the earth, any people who might be on Mars would be able to survive. These measures would include, potentially, the use of solar power, which could be very useful on the Moon since the sun's rays are very intense at times. Another potential resource that we could find might be various precious metals.

I found it very interesting that NASA really is not thinking very long term. While I think Young's view is a little too long term, NASA needs to clearly define their goals for both next few years and also for the next century. Obviously, the goals for later times would be modified as new things are discovered, new technologies are developed, and new problems/questions arise.

But I do believe that NASA needs to clearly define what their broad goals are. Is it to one day colonize other planets? Or are we really just trying to learn more about these other planets so as to learn more about earth and try to figure out a way to conserve out planet? Or it could be to look for resources. Whatever it may be, it seems that until NASA can clearly state what they are trying to accomplish, all the missions could be very disparate and really not all that informative. Of course, I really do not know too much about the inner workings of NASA, but from our conversations, I personally have not felt that a clear goal and reason for all this money and hard work has been stated.

We then started discussing the President's Initiative. Some of the members of the class questioned his actual motives. I agreed with the people who were skeptical, considering that it is election year and he may just be attempting to garner support from more Americans. After all, how can climate change be a priority for Bush when he does not even acknowledge some very fundamental facts about it?

We also discussed the actual motivation for the American people to support such a proposal. When the idea of space exploration was first stressed in America, during John F. Kennedy's presidency, the people really rallied behind him and supported the idea. But the circumstances then were so different then they are currently. First of all the idea of exploring space and landing a human on the moon was a relatively new concept and it had not been accomplished by any before. Also, we had clear competition, and many of the American people felt strongly about the need to assert America's superiority over all the other countries of the world.

Now, it is clear to everyone that we are a super power, if not The super power. Also, while humans have yet to land on Mars, America has already accomplished its goal of sending people to the surface of another solar body – the uniqueness is gone. Bush's reasons for proposing this are not motivated by an outside source, as Kennedy's were, but rather some inner drive in out country, mainly from the success of the rovers.

Many of the people in the class were unsure about the real need for change in NASA. They did not see how the failure of the Columbia mission, and the astronaut's who died because of it, suggested need for internal change in NASA. I thought it made sense, though. After all, it was a terrible tragedy that could have been prevented, and NASA needs to figure out a way to prevent things like this from happening ever again. It made them look bad in the public eye, and if they were to do nothing about it, it would make them look even worse.

I looked at the articles that were handed out in class, and found some of the points they made to be very valid, yet surprising. For example, In “Tighten the Exploration Initiative” by Robert Zubin, he states that, if the government were to cut back on funding for NASA, they would be forced to really try to accomplish their goals as inexpensively as possible. Also, he questioned NASA's reasons for some of their plans, and he suggests that NASA would have to more clearly define their goals if they had less money. This directly addresses my concern that NASA does not really seem sure of their plans for the future and actual long term goals.

From NASA's “The Vision for Space Exploration,” I got the impression that their main goals are to inspire more Americans to feel pride in their country as well as to include the international community, and to make sure that space exploration is as safe as possible. But nowhere did it state really why we exploring. I think only when they can give a clear answer to that can the government begin to consider the president's initiative.
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