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 (03/24/04)

From all the guests we have had thus far, David Merchant has been the must engaging. There was something about his presentation that really kept me on my toes; I definitely wouldn't mind opening a window for him if he were hot. Aside from his magnetic personality I thought the content of his power point presentation was great. He gave his trips to Antarctica a psychological twist which I really enjoyed. Specifically, I was interested on how he selected his team members. He mentioned that people who wanted an escape from society were the worst members because they would become lazy upon arrival. I thought the antithesis was true (i.e., I thought those who wanted to leave society were more willing to become immersed within nature). I guess I had this preconceived notion because of Henry David Thoreau's "Walden." It is amazing how this literary work parallels the Antarctica missions. Both involve becoming one with nature in order to find meaning. In relation to the scientists in Antarctica, they try to find meaning in the environment and in turn learn things about themselves.

I also thought that the distinction between early exploration of Antarctica and current exploration of Antarctica was an interesting matter. Early explorers failed because they could not separate from their home in Britain. Today in order to have a successful mission one must completely remove oneself from reality in order to become fully immersed in Antarctica. I thought this was a paradox. It makes sense that if we a unaware of what's going on back home we can more accurately do research, but aren't humans motivated to form interpersonal relationships? This brings me to the topic of robots. I believe that if humans are stripped of their reality and sense of warmth, they will become more like robots. This is not necessarily a good thing, because robots do not have the complexity that humans have when it comes to exploration. Yes, earlier explorations failed because of an inability to forget about "home," but doesn't awareness of reality keep us motivated to succeed, so that one day we can return?

I asked members of my unit what they would take to Antarctica and most of them said pictures of family members, music, and books. Their responses positively correlated with David's theory that most of his team members bring items of escape, rather than items for hygiene. When I asked them weather they would be able to last 1 season in Antarctica, the majority said no. This comes to show that only the most resilient and psychologically fit scientists can endure a season in Antarctica.

David slightly touched upon the analog between Mars and Antarctica. He said that climate changes observed in Antarctica are similar to those observed in Mars' past. I would like to know more specifics about why Antarctica is such a great analog. I would also like to learn about the desert in Northern Chile and how it differs from Antarctica in relation to Mars. From the pictures that David showed us of Antarctica, and the recent picture Jay showed us of Mars, I definitely see a resemblance. I get chills when I see such identical rock formations in both locales. I am also excited to see what else Professor Head and David will find in the future.

The harsh conditions in Antarctica are in indicator of how difficult it would be to send humans to Mars. Helicopter landing difficulty is just one example of the many twists that a mission can undergo. If a helicopter crashes one out of every five years here on earth, then the odds are definitely against us on Mars. As for the efficiency of humans in these austere conditions, I think they are more fit than robots. For one we can adapt to change very well (just look at evolution); robots on the other hand would probably need a new software installation. Also, humans have that special knack of pinpointing important sights unlike robots. It will be interesting to see how these ideas unravel in our next class.
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