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 (04/08/04)

Since the beginning of time, man has been driven by exploration. Without this drive much of what we know today would have never surmounted. Even in the bible there are implications of man's impetus to explore. For example, in the Garden of Eden, Eve decides to explore the Tree of Life. But is this metaphor apt, that is, is exploration a form of temptation? For some, yes. These people tend to phase such notions out of their lives. They see exploration as an unnecessary evil. For others, however, exploration is a blessing given to us by God. I am part of the latter, as are most scientists.

So why explore in the first place? The most obvious answer to this elusive question is to find something. What is found depends on the person. One individual may want to find the cure for a malignant disease, while another may want to find validation; others may simply want to find their name in a record book. I was surprised from our discussion in class that most people associated exploration with negative things like power, competition, and conquest. Conversely, when I polled a group of Brown juniors, 86% of them claimed that we explore in order to "expand our scientific boundaries"--talk about liberal. I personally believe that missions to Mars and other forms of exploration help to better the human condition. Through exploration, we are able to find key ingredients to the mysteries here on Earth. These findings better our lives, be it through a medical discovery or a progression in science. Mars will similarly help us to understand our place in the universe in the upcoming years.

When I found out today that there was possible traces of methane on Mars, I got chills. This finding could open so many doors when it comes to biological life on the Red Planet. In order to be certain that this is definitely methane, I think we should send a rover to Mars that could run chemical experiments similar to those of Viking I and II. Compounds that react with methane should be taken into consideration before these reactions are carried out. In terms of the volcanic activity hypothesis, I think that scientists have run sufficient tests to show that Mars has been volcanically inactive for awhile now.

Today in class we also discussed ways in which we could propose a Mars initiative to Congress. If I had to propose such a mission, I would take an international unity approach. In a time of mass terrorism and fear, a project where Earth's constituents could unite and explore the macrocosms of the universe might serve as a healthy remedy. If we all come to realize that we are all miniscule creatures in this gigantic universe, perhaps common ground will be established. This proposition might seem too optimistic, but it could work.

If we do get to Mars someday, the first thing I think we should do is run tests to see if Martian soil has medicinal applications or something that can benefit us here on Earth. After that, standard topographical examinations should be carried out.

Moreover, skeptics argue that Mars exploration is futile, especially with unsolved problems like world hunger still thriving here on Earth. What benefit can mankind acquire from these missions then? This question is one which I still have doubts about. I am definitely an advocate for human rights, but on the other hand, I am still a scientist. Because I am torn on this issue, I hope future seminars will help me reach some kind of harmony between the two. The answer to this question should definitely explain why we want to go to Mars. Is the need for exploration an adequate reason, or should there be a more substantial one? With billions of dollars on the line, I just hope this reason is worthwhile.


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