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 (04/14/04)

The most important facet of today's class was the discussion about substantial reasons for going to Mars. The presidents initiative will eventually be presented to Congress for approval, so these issues need to be addressed. From attending the Research Seminar and Discussion with Steve Saunders on Friday as well as today's class, I have devised the following list of reasons for going to Mars: 1. to expand housing and solve the overpopulation crisis; 2. to beat the Chinese; 3. to gain insight into Earth's past, present, and future; 4. to understand life in the universe; 5. to find medicinal applications of the Martian environment here on Earth; 6. to learn more about the different oxidizing toxins; and 7. to explore and broaden knowledge of the universe. Personally, I think we could also go to Mars in order to understand the global warming crisis that is now transpiring. An analysis of Mars' atmosphere might give us clues as to how we can prevent the degradation of Earth.

After today's seminar, I still have some unanswered questions. For one, I would like to know why the moon is going to be used as a precursor to Mars. If the moon is so distinct from Mars' environment, then why are we going there in the first place? My only assumption is that human exploration on the moon might give us an idea of what's in store for us on Mars; the moon will be kind of like a test run for the real experiment.

Another question I have been pondering over is the effect of cosmic rays on humans. I would assume that NASA will use mice to test the effects of radiation prior to humans. James Garvin gave me a bit more insight into this question when he told us that astronauts would be genetically screened to see who could best endure the radiation. I think this will cause much debate and conflict over who should be the first man to land on Mars. Also, when genetic screening occurs, the question of ethics will inevitably pop up. I believe that if two astronauts have trained equally, they should both be given the chance to go to Mars, regardless of their genes.

I also wanted to ask Dr. Garvin if in future Mars missions we could land in proposed ocean sites like Hellas and Argyre. I think landing in these closed basins would tell us whether or not oceans existed on Mars. These sites are also good places to search for signs of life. I might just email Jim and find out.

One thing that I learned today was that space missions undergo somewhat of a pattern. First there are orbiters that pinpoint sites of worthy exploration and then there are rovers that are sent to these sites. Initially, I thought that space exploration was less systematic. Moreover, Dr. Garvin also brought our previous human versus automated exploration discussion full circle when he spoke of the necessity of humans in exploration. His point that humans can rapidly adapt to the unexpected was great. Only the human eye could change a days mission upon finding a peculiar looking rock; a robot on the other hand, adheres to a programmed schedule of events.

The final point that I would like to discuss is public support for the funding of space exploration and cure of diseases. Dr. Garvin briefly mentioned that if the nation were polled, people would be found who were against both types of investment. I interestingly enough asked about 100 people in my residential area, and the majority were in support of medical funding. Could we do without space exploration? The answer is no. We have come so far as a society because of previous types of explorations (carbon tubules for instance), and this one will just place us one more step ahead. Dr. Garvin made an excellent point when he compared societies that have engaged in some types exploration and others that haven't. The facts are clear. Societies that have engaged in space exploration tend to be more advanced than those that have not. For the progression of society, both space exploration and medicinal research will have to be carried out.
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