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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Cindy Beavon (04/21/04)

First, I'd like to say that I find those posed astronaut photos completely charming and I was thinking just that before Professor Head commented about them. In all those photos, astronauts have something about them, something more than just a spacesuit and American flag behind them.

In general, I appreciated the detailed outline David Scott included in his Power Point regarding the motivations of going to Mars, why we go, lessons we learned from Apollo, and how we determine who goes. Even though I understood going into class that David had been on the moon and on multiple lunar missions, it was still incredible to come across the slide in the presentation of a person on the moon and hear: “yes, that's me, that's yours truly.” I was also touched by how he said he could watch Earth “for hours and hours,” and also that the moon was “more beautiful than we expected” that it was “very very exciting to be in a pristine environment and be able to explore it.”

In response to a question I asked regarding what the main theme of motivation will be to make a decision to go to Mars, David responded that there was no way to really tell, but when Lilliane asked him what he personally thought of Bush's Mars mission, he said that “our society votes on budgets,” which to me implied that the only way it is feasible to send a manned mission to Mars would be if it was sellable to the public fiscally. Yet one of his last slides entitled “Adventure” hinted at this so-called ‘exploration and human spirit' motivation of space travel he previously outlined. As we looked at this page, David even said that “we'll probably go there for adventure,” which I found problematic in response to my question.

Although I knew that Congress made decisions about budgets every two years, David put NASA budgets really into perspective for me when he said frankly that every two years the government is going to have to decide whether or not the funding for the space program is too little or too much. Any year we're, say, in the middle of a war or domestic crisis, so much NASA funding is at risk. Given this, I feel like it would be impossible to make a plan for the next 30 years of space exploration and have the ability to stick to it.

Regarding the Bush initiative, like everyone else, I was shocked at his immediate response that a manned mission would be “ill advised.” He had a very clear and rational reason to oppose it: the need for more robotic and unmanned flights first. As an astronaut with the knowledge of, I'm sure, what an incredible experience it is to leave Earth orbit, I would think he'd be the first to be in support of it. I never considered the other hand that says, given someone who is aware of the hazards and challenges of space flight, how important it is to be completely prepared before shooting someone off in that direction. How relevant is it that his opposition is in light of his resignment from NASA? What would make him oppose the initiative, while some other men on the same missions he's been on may approve? Additionally, I would be interested to know how ‘prepared' he considered the country was for manned missions to the moon versus how ‘prepared' we are now. When Kennedy announced plans for sending a person to Mars by 1970, certainly not very many preliminary lunar missions had been accomplished?

Lastly, I appreciated Professor Head's response to Frank's question as we were sitting on Lincoln Field “do you ever wish you could go on the space missions?” It's good to hear personal stories from professors, and I was touched by his response that he would “in an instant.” His justification to staying on Earth, though, in order to take part in a greater breadth of experiences rather than just focusing on being an astronaut was equally as touching in showing how one can be committed to space exploration any way one can.


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