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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Frank Crespo (04/28/04)

John Young brought an entirely new perspective to our class. Rather than simply tell us about his Apollo mission, he centered the discussion around what he envisioned for space exploration in general. I thought this was more valuable than textbook information. I was especially enthralled by his stance on the current Bush initiative. He briefly mentioned that it was a "good speech." Initially I took this literally, but Jim Head's perspective allowed me to understand the undertones of his comment. To describe the speech in such simplistic terms might have meant that it was good but not plausible.

In connection with last weeks guest, Dave Scott, there were some similarities between him and John Young. For one, they both represented NASA to the best of their abilities by showing a fervor for exploration. In addition, they both indicated that Bush's initiative was improbable. Dave Scott did this by labeling it as ill-advised, while Young pointed out that the proposed budget for it is insufficient. On the other hand, there were also some clear differences between them. For example, they differed when it came to defining how long it would take to land humans on Mars. While Scott gave an estimate of twenty five years, Young constantly hammered us with the year 2050. As employees of NASA, I would have expected them to have a similar prediction. This just comes to show that even NASA is unclear on Bush's initiative; definite changes need to be made.

The first change, as Young pointed out, is that the government needs to increase proposed funding for this plan. A second change that should be underway is a detailed description of the program along with a schedule of events. Right now it seems as if this initiative has numerous loose ends that need to be welded together. Thirdly, a direct reason for going to Mars needs to be concretely established. John gave us his opinion on this issue by saying that we need to colonize Mars and the Moon due to the fact that in the near future survival on Earth seems dim. Another reason which I sided with, was an exploration for energy sources on other planetary bodies. One question now remains, do these reasons seem apt to congress?

Two things that I learned from today's class were that each space mission has a thick rule book that astronauts must adhere to, as well as that Bush senior proposed a similar space initiative in 1989. In terms of the latter, I was surprised that a similar plan was turned down. Based on this, advocates of the initiative need to gather together and take a different approach than was undertaken in 1989. If history repeats itself, the boundaries of the universe will remain unknown.

Moreover, Shveta's question about John Kerry was a good one. I was similarly considering the impact of a Kerry presidency on the space initiative. John Young's answer to this seemed way too simple for me. He stated, "If he's smart he will adopt it." I think classifying someone as smart has nothing to do with whether or not he or she will advocate space exploration. There's more to it than that. Kerry may be completely ignorant of space exploration, so we must inform him of its benefits towards mankind.

Lastly, I was pondering over one of the truisms mentioned in class about human nature. Marshall made the comment that humans tend to deny their long term problems and focus on the short term. I think this is an artificial way to live. If one does not look at the future of life, the continued existence of mankind is grim. We must set aside our existential "here and now" views and look at the greater picture of things. I was even more distraught when Professor Head said that even NASA looks at short term goals. One of the reasons I took this class was to explore things distant from the present context of society. People need to start thinking about the grander scheme of things and where we fit in the universe. If not, we might soon become extinct. Worrying about the little things will in no way help us in the long run.
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