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 (04/28/04)

I'd been looking forward to this class all year: “John Young” is a name I'd been able to recognize even before coming to Brown. Class today was one of the most unusual classes I've ever had- I've never had a class conducted by my teacher via telephone, and not only that, but the guest speaker as well. It was odd to sit there for the 2.5 hours and realize that I'm basically just listening to a telephone conversation that we could hang up on any time we wanted. What are the implications of that? Anyway.

I felt that since Professor Head wasn't actually in the classroom staring at all our eager faces, he rambled a bit in the beginning once we contacted Captain Young. Lots of his questions were very vague, and therefore Captain Young's answers were vague. We in the classroom started wondering when we'd get a turn, albeit those vague answers persisted in the wake of our specific questions later.

The first answer Captain Young had in response to a question something like “What do you think of the Bush initiative?” was “Single planet species don't last.” This seemed anachronous. He's putting this idea of space colonization in the context of the Bush initiative: is he serious? Bush certainly doesn't even hint at this possibility, and NASA's designation is not species sustainability, it's exploration. I didn't find his defense of space colonization very compelling for several reasons. I think the strongest and most rational argument he made for space colonization was: there's lots of dangerous volcanoes and meteorites out there that could annihilate the planet. But other environments no doubt have the risk of such natural disasters as well. He made the argument that we're rapidly depleting our resources. I believe it is exponentially wiser to concentrate on learning how to create a sustainable environment before we blast off with our nuclear reactors to the moon and beyond. This plan is uncontestably more feasible and even beginning as we speak, evidenced by fuel cells, grass-roots movements, and multiple international treaties to reduce fossil fuel production. Neil Young also made some dodgy statements about all the people moving to the US these days, or something of the sort that nearly smacked of xenophobia. Professor Head praised John Young as being a “big picture” or “long term” thinker, but such long term thinking actually sounds more like crazy thinking to me. I think Captain Young's credibility (or at least articulated credibility) was most clearly demonstrated with his last words to conclude an argument for solar system colonization: “You know someday, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren might be living on Mars, and that'd be neat.” Not something I'd want to risk my species on.

Other than colonization (his favorite topic to bring up though we had not asked him about it), Captain Young “talked” about Bush's initiative. In response to my question: “if Project Constellation does make it through Congress, what do you think the politicians will perceive as the long-term returns of this project, and why do think it has better chances of passing now than in 1989?” he responded something to the like of “I don't know what the politicians will vote on you know they've got all kinds of motivations.” Then he started trailing off about how if people were educated they'd see the value in space colonization. I was more than displeased with that response. His effort to completely avoid answering the question was quite apparent.

Though I completely realize that Captain John Young must be a highly capable, intelligent man with much integrity and vision, I felt frustrated and awkward for much of the interview. I understand that scientists have a reputation/stereotype of not be the best of public speakers, and I will try to remember this rather than judge his character based on a single phone interview.


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