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 (03/17/04)

Walking over to the CAVE I envisioned a highly technological tool which would allow me to step into Mar's realm. Actually, since the first day of class I was anticipating this day. I told my friends and family that I was going to Mars and they told me that I was insane. To their dismay the CAVE allowed me to do the unthinkable: land on Mars.

The graphics and three dimensional features allowed my illusion to persist in more ways than one. I glided over the surface of Mars, passing craters and trenches. What an experience! For a instance, I became lost in the moment and imagined that I was actually there. Could you imagine the possibilities of a human actually landing on Mars? The sites to explore and the wonders that lie within this mystic planet would keep an explorer quite busy.

The first site that I decided to go to was Olympus Mons. I chose this locale because I have always been amazed by its grandeur. As I hovered towards this immense volcano, I was in a state of stupor. Olympus Mons was humongous; it was exactly how I pictured it. Then I did the unthinkable: I went inside the volcano. As I looked into its mouth it suddenly came to me that this program was not a form of reality. Perhaps someday though, someone will be able to perform such a feat, but for now I think we should stick to the rovers.

Another site that I visited was the North Polar Cap. This location was special for me because I knew that the key to life existed there. When I landed there I wished that I had a "ratting device" to look beneath the surface.

Despite my fascination throughout this activity, I did find some limitations. For one, the images were not as detailed as I expected. For example, as I approached the walls of a crater I was not able to see any hematite. Also, it took awhile for the program to download when we moved to a different site. I asked one of the coordinators what he thought was a limitation of the CAVE and he said, "You cannot see the full size of Mars. Also the data registry takes awhile."

From this experience, I think that humans can do a better job at exploring Mars than robots; before class I thought the antithesis was true. Why did I change opinion? Well, from using the CAVE I realized that humans have a natural instinct and curiosity when it comes to exploration. Robots lack this ability; in fact the rovers' path is coordinated by humans. Just like the analogy between the human brain and computers, robots will never reach the complexity of mankind.

The four most fundamental questions about Mars are:


1. Did life exist in the past?;

2. Did water exist in the past?;

3. How long did water exist on Mars?; and

4. Did plate tectonics exist there?

Of course, the answers to these questions will not be easy to find. I personally think that we should focus on the "blueberries" and examine their composition first. From there we can move on to more significant sites like the polar caps. We must take baby steps before any significant developments can form. Despite the fact that humans make better explorers than robots, I would send rovers to the polar caps to examine what lies beneath the surface. This decision is just a matter of safety.

I think humans will never have all the answers they want. If we find that life existed on Mars, then we'll ask the question, "Where did life on Mars come from?" This will only be answered by exploring other planets. As you can see, a ripple effect will occur into the endless expanse of the universe.


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