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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Daniel Finn-Foley (03/03/04)

I greatly enjoyed our discussion this past Monday with Drs. Khrushchev and Basilevsky. It was a unique experience talking to such noteworthy people in the fields of space exploration, and provided a perspective on the space race I have never been exposed to.

As a child interested in space exploration I was blissfully ignorant of the Russian / American space race. I heard about the early orbital missions, Apollo missions, the mars missions and the space shuttles and simply assumed they were conducted for the merit of exploration itself. While that may be true, I later learned that many advances in technology were caused by the “Cold War” between America and Russia, a war I assumed as a child to simply have been fought in the Siberian regions of Russia I saw in the Bond movie “Goldeneye”. When I finally learned what the space race really was it by no means diminished my admiration of the early pioneers of this new frontier, it simply gave new motivation to the bureaucracy funding the exploration, not the motives of the explorers themselves.

This class was especially interesting to me because it allowed me to see the other side of the space race. Information on spy photographs Khrushchev so casually mentioned would today would have driven a CIA operative crazy in the 60's. I never realized the Russian space program depended so much on the American space program, not only for information they did not have the means to obtain, but also for popular support. The launching of Sputnik, I learned in class, had little to no importance to the Russian public at large, occupying only a small part of the newspaper. Not until American headlines showed the fear and awe Americans had for this small bleeping satellite did the Russians turn it into a political pawn, perhaps causing the space race.

It is interesting to think of how our two space programs could not have existed without the other, even though they were in great competition. If not for the fear of Soviets making nuclear missile silos on the dark side of the moon (a fear that, through searches for gamma rays near the moon, spurned the discovery of an astronomical phenomenon known as Hypernovi) the American space program may not have broken atmosphere for years, never mind ever having the motivation to put a man on the moon. If NASA had not won the Space Race and the Russians funds had not dried up, who knows how far the mutual competition would have pushed the bounds of space travel?




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