Daniel Finn-Foley (03/24/04)
I thought our class on Monday with Professor David Marchant was incredibly interesting. The thought of going down to Antarctica and being essentially cut off from civilization for weeks and months at a time for seventeen years straight is amazing, and having Professor Marchant's perspective was invaluable. The information gleaned from the dry valleys of Antarctica could be very useful in interpreting the data we are getting now from the rovers on Mars. But even more than this, I think the experience of studying the geology in Antarctica gives us a sense for how feasible it would be to send men to Mars to study there.
To simply get to Antarctica seems like a daunting feat in and of itself. One has o endure survival training, cramped flights, dangerous helicopter rides, and massive amounts of bureaucracy. Then once you finally get to Antarctica you have to confront the elements and the isolation while still making useful scientific observations. Not only do you have to prepare for problems like the cold, but you have to prepare for unforeseen problems such as the one Professor Marchant told us about where a member of his team, while heading back to camp, slipped on a snow bank and wound up tearing all the tendons in his knee, making him helpless. While they were able to air-lift him to the naval base nearby for medical treatment relatively quickly, imagine if a situation like this came up on Mars. That person would be months away from any sort of medical treatment, and in the mean time would be unable to work and be a general burden on the other astronauts. When going to Mars, how many problems can be foreseen and planned for, certainly not the situation described above. If anything serious happened, it could mean death for an astronaut when on Earth it would only mean a trip to the hospital. How safe is it to send these men months away from home with no way of getting back in an emergency, and further, is it worth it to do so?
While the value of the research being done in the dry valleys of Antarctica is no doubt important, one can question whether or not it is worth the risk and cost of sending a small group of relatively untrained scientists into such a harsh place with little recourse if anything were to go wrong. The experiences in the dry valleys, possibly the most alien and unforgiving place where scientists are doing research, can no doubt be applied to the Mars exploration, both in geological similarities and by judging the problems encountered. Should we ever choose to go to Mars, the experience of Professor Marchant and his teams will undoubtedly be taken into consideration, and hopefully allow the trip there to be safer than it otherwise would be.