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 (04/08/04)

This week in class we discussed the meaning of exploration to humanity as a whole, our role in the cosmos, and the future of our space program. This was another great discussion since people had a lot of opinions on the nature of exploration. I've found that little exploration done has been for purely scientific reasons, but instead was motivated by political or other reasons. The first trip to the South Pole was an expression of British superiority, the landing on the moon was driven by a need to prove America's philosophy over the Soviet's, etc. There has been little to no exploration driven by pure scientific curiosity, in my opinion the only justifiable reason to explore, beyond necessity. The recent Mars missions seem like they come as close as anything to true exploration as there is little possibility Mars will yield a route to the Asian spice trade. Instead it is motivated by the primal human questions: How did we get here? Are we alone? Where do we go in the future?

The new focus on mars as the next step thrills me since it is opening up doors for exploration that have been closed for centuries, however I worry that landing humans on Mars and beyond may be a pipe dream. The whole Mars initiative strikes me as a clever ploy by the Bush administration to distract voters from the issues by rekindling the child-like love of exploring in the common American. In any case I don't see our society as ready for a trip to Mars. The means may be there, but I don't believe the will is. Exploration is a golden age concept, something a culture can do at the height of civilization, a place where I doubt America, and more importantly the world, will be in the foreseeable future. Until we address the problems facing our planet, how can we in good conscience spend so much time, money, and energy for the trivial, yet emotionally important, act of physically putting a man on the moon?

Nonetheless exploration is a noble endeavor, and one I believe should be pursued to its fullest when the time is right. It is so easy to avoid knowledge, and so hard to actively seek it out. Those who do are the true explorers.
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