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 (04/14/04)

This week's class, which included a discussion with Dr. James Garvin, was very interesting. Jim has the distinction of leading the scientific mission currently underway on the surface of Mars, and his enthusiasm and knowledge was obvious even over the phone. His PowerPoint presentation was instructional, and gave me a great perspective on where the exploration of Mars is headed.

The key question I wanted to ask Jim as head of the robotic exploration of Mars' surface was how manned missions could improve on the work currently being done by rover on remote. I asked him if he could snap his fingers and put men on mars, what would he have them do? He quickly got to the root of the question, the pros and cons of manned missions and their advantages and disadvantages over robotic missions. The obvious problem is getting humans to Mars since they require many things a robot does not, such as oxygen, food, water, etc. The ship getting human explorers to mars would have to be huge in comparison with the small one time deployment capsule the rovers were sent in, capable of not only landing safely on Mars, but supplying for the explorers and then getting them home. These problems, while not impossible to overcome, present a great deal of challenges that would make manned exploration to Mars very costly. The question is, is it worth it?

Jim and I agreed that manned missions would be worthwhile. Having robots on Mars cannot possibly compare with having humans on Mars capable of making decisions a robot would never be able to. The human brain represents the pinnacle of computing, and modern science has barely begun to answer the question of how our brain gives us consciousness. To have a human on Mars would be a great advantage. Should a situation come up, the rover would not have to send a signal, then and hour for a return signal telling it what to do. Instead a human explorer could make a decision on the spot, saving valuable time and energy.

In the end a manned mission to Mars is the next logical step in humanity's exploration of the heavens. I hope that the president's initiative to land on the red planet is motivated not by political reasons, but by the instinct to explore and learn inherent in all people. If a manned mission was motivated by such ideals, no problem would be insurmountable.
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