Geoffrey Stetson (04/28/04)
This last class was very interesting just in the way it was taught. We had a TA running the “base camp”, while the professor teleconferenced from the south of France, with the class and an Apollo astronaut at NASA. I wonder who is paying the phone bill. But it was a real treat to talk with John Young. It was also impressive to see the dedication of our teacher. If I were in his shoes, I would have been kicking it with a bottle of Wicks Witte.
But I learned a lot from John Young. What surprised me the most were his apocalyptic views for the future. When you think of astronauts, you think of calm, cool, collected individuals, who can deal with anything. Their opinion of the future would probably be, a “we can take care of it” attitude. We will take the necessary steps to ensure things go smoothly. John Young was not like that. He felt that humans are doomed unless we do something soon. His time frame for a catastrophic event was 100 years, and his time frame for humans depleting most of our resources was only 50 years. He is a very strong advocate for colonizing the moon and Mars. I think his idea of spreading out the human race is a pertinent concept. It would give us greater range, and make it harder to kill all of us in one fell swoop. The two examples of possible mass deaths he gave: the earth colliding with an asteroid, or the earth being covered in dust by a super volcano, of which there are 3 in the united states. Neither of these options sounds too enticing. Colonization would also provide more resources. But how many resources can there be on the moon and mars. At least the ones we use now. It seems like most of the things we use are organic, or once were organic, such as oil.
I feel John Young has a rather cynical view for the future of our race. He said that there is a 1/455 chance of humans getting completely wiped out in the next 100 years. I find that hard to believe. He definitely seems to be a very intelligent man and I'm sure he has a lot of information that I don't. I just don't see humans dying out in the next hundred years. I don't know who said it, but we should work on populating places like the Gobi desert before we go traipsing off to outer space. We should also try some underwater living. Make our own, self contained, little Atlantis. See how these projects work out before putting up for sale signs next to Olympus Mons. “For Sale. Great View”.
But the exploration should carry on. Humans need to gather more information so we can formulate plans for the future. John Young's ideas about the mission itself were very different than any I had heard so far. He said that on the trip to Mars, there would be no precursor mission. If we are going out there, we are landing. This makes perfect sense though. If we are sending humans on a 2 year mission, we have got to make it worth it. Also, along those same lines, astronauts would not stay on the surface for just a few days or weeks. Young suggested 100 days. He said, “you can't get anything done in 30 days”. I'll take his word for it. But this provides a new problem that was never mentioned. If the surface mission lasted 100 days, then we probably could not have a man or crew orbiting the planet. What would they do for 100 years while the rest of the crew was on the surface. It would not work so well.
Lastly, I was very interested to know the number of problems that John Young had on his own missions. On one he said he had either 99 or 100 problems on one mission alone. This just shows the ingenuity and quick thinking possessed by the people in the space program. A mission had 100 problems and it still went according to plan. I find that at least mildly impressive.