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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Hannah Pepper-Cunningham (04/28/04)

Coming into Monday's class, I was really worried that I was not going to be able to stay awake due to the fact that I had been at the March for Women's Lives the day before and had not really slept at all. This fear was quickly done away with when Captain Young opened his mouth and, for an entire hour, made statements that provoked me into deep thought and criticism.

Professor Head had said that the opinions of Young and David Scott would most likely differ given the fact that the latter was no longer employed by NASA, and the former was. I had no idea, however, how drastically Scott's pronouncement that the President's initiative was “ill-advised” would contrast with Young's assertion that Bush had given NASA a “really good goal.” As he elaborated this point, his apocalyptic visions of a supervolcano and his conviction regarding the doomsday inevitable to a “single-planet species” shook my most profound childhood fears from their deep slumber and hinted that the anxieties that many of us forget as we become more concerned with the day to day may not have become mute points.

John Young was very convinced that the next challenge for humanity consisted in finding an alternate planet on which we could continue our existence if – or, according to Young, when – Earth were to become uninhabitable. During class, we discussed the fact that the lack of devotees this approach has garnered may be due to the reluctance of our society to think about the long term. While this is demonstrably true, I think that the approach itself is escapist. The ways in which Young discussed Earth becoming uninhabitable had to do with much more than a supervolcano; a central issue was in fact that of sustainability on Earth. Young said we had to look to the Moon in Mars to “plan” for the problems resulting from population explosion, immigration problems, the depletion of nonrenewable resources, fossil fuel emissions, and global warming. However, I feel that it is detrimental to approach these problems by trying to escape the situation that we in many ways have created for ourselves. As I said in class, I feel that it is more important to try to promote a decreased dependence on fossil fuels, an increase of energy efficiency, and sustainability in all areas; and I worry that an approach like Young's would decrease the urgency with which these tasks are undertaken.

In class, Professor Head said that one of the roadblocks to promoting sustainability on Earth involves the difficulty and unfairness of implicit in restricting any type of development in underdeveloped countries. However, Given that developed countries like the United States arguably dictate the ways in which underdeveloped countries develop through economics and trade, it could be argued that at the present the United States is restricting possibilities for development by only making ones that are not sustainable accessible and affordable. Additionally, because of the United States' historical role in the developing world, I feel that this country has an obligation of sorts to aid in this sustainability. Doing so would promote a more equitable global society, something that our world is very much in need of at the moment and something that moving humans to Mars would not give rise to. Hence my overall conclusion that moving to Mars is in fact a way of avoiding responsibility for a situation that we may have gotten ourselves into in some way. Understood in this way, I think that it is interesting that Young loosely related this escape to Mars to the way in which the President has handled the “War on Terror,” a manner that I think has avoided taking any responsibility for actually making the world a safer place in a manner that might acknowledge past mistakes or misjudgements on the part of the United States.

Additionally, the idea of long-term planning was very interesting. I do think that our society has a problem when it comes to thinking in the long term – if we didn't then we might not be so worried about the fate of our planet right now. However, Young's estimate that we might get a person on Mars by 2050 if there is significant funding is problematic. The United States Pentagon has asserted that by 2020, global climate change will have become the greatest threat to humankind across the globe. This supports the assertion, then, that it is more necessary to focus on making sure that the habibility of the Earth is sustained than it is to go to the Mars. Once we have made the Earth a sustainable place, a prospect that, while daunting, is certainly possible, we can think about looking for alternate environments.

 

 

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