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 (03/24/04)

I found our discussion this past week to be very informational for many reasons. After experiencing the Cave last week, I felt like I had a pretty good feel for what it would be like to actually walk around on the surface of Mars and try to discover various things. The Cave seemed very overwhelming at first, but I slowly became adjusted to it and was then able to look at more minute details of the surface of the planet. This is what I thought going to Mars would potentially be like for the first people who went.

It was not until Professor David Marchant spoke to us that I thought about the other aspects, besides the obvious risks, of having humans actually journey to Mars. Professor Marchant's explorations of Antarctica really seem to parallel what exploring Mars would be like. He ventured to a region completely unlike anything people see in their everyday lives, with extremely harsh conditions and in almost complete isolation from any outside contact, and chose to live there for a relatively long period of time, with only a small group of people. I think Professor Marchant's experience in dealing with both the extreme change in climate and the feelings of separation from the outside world would be invaluable were we to ever attempt to send people to Mars, or any other distant body.

One of the things that Professor Marchant discussed that I found particularly interesting was his idea of really immersing yourself totally in the environment you are exploring. While the early settlers attempted to make life in Antarctica as similar as it was in their own home towns, Professor Marchant really felt it was important to adjust to the conditions that are presented to you. I feel that this is especially important when one is exploring a completely alien environment; if there are too many similarities to what you already know and take for granted, you will spend too much time trying to draw connections between things you already understand and have observed, rather than trying to accept that there could be things that our current basis of knowledge just cannot describe.

To me, this seems to be a bit like what is going on in relation to Mars and Antarctica; it just does not seem possible to me that two places that have so many fundamental differences (plate tectonics, atmosphere, etc.) could every be quite so similar. That being said, I do believe that right now the closest approximation to Mars that we have that we can actually study would be Antarctica. It's amazing to see in just how many ways they are alike, and I do believe that any hypothesizes about Mars could be tested on Antarctica, until they could actually be investigated on Mars. But I do think every seeming connection should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

For a few weeks, it has been bothering me because I just could not explain to myself why robots would not suffice and we actually needed humans to be able to investigate Mars, even though I knew it had to be true. When I asked Professor Marchant what he thought about it, he really nailed it on the head by saying that robots can only look for think we are already looking for, i.e. they can confirm or deny questions we already have, but, unlike humans, they cannot formulate new questions to be investigated and developed. The creative aspect that humans bring with them is absolutely necessary for any scientific process to move forward.


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