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 (05/12/04)

I have to admit that the format of this past Monday's class was not my favorite so far. I felt that the format, which did not allow for any response, discussion or synthesized consideration stunted what could have been an interesting conversation. This was especially detrimental given the apparent lack of clarity that many of us had with regards to the thesis; it seemed that people were unsure whether the discussion was regarding this specific president, or an executive in general. While, either of these veins had the potential to allow for some interesting discussion and thought, such discussion was made difficult, however, by the disjointed nature of the class, in which a statement often had nothing to do with the one made before it. Despite this, I felt that I gleaned some very pertinent information from different people's statements, and was prompted to do a lot of thinking on my own.

I argued against an executive initiative. Although I misinterpreted the thesis and argued specifically with regards to president Bush, the realizations I made while exploring his initiative in particular made me more inclined towards a congressionally directed NASA regardless of the president's identity. First of all, it was made clear to me, mostly through the criticism of experts, that President Bush does not have the expertise necessary to guide NASA. Perhaps this will not be the case for some ex-NASA official incumbent in the future, but a decision as to whether or not to allow the executive to guide NASA should not be based on such a chance occurrence. Congress, on the other hand, has committees that are fluent in addressing issues of science and space exploration, and would provide an excellent arena for plans for space exploration to be explored, debated, and cultivated.

However, the president's own background in space could possibly be a moot point, provided that he were to receive guidance from appropriate experts, as presidents are wont to do. Such experts could include scientists, NASA officials, and political analysts. In fact, I am sure that President Bush did consult with all of these people while planning his vision for Space Exploration. Thus, it appears that the inadequacy of President Bush's vision may come down to more than an inadequate knowledge of space. We have discussed the possibility of ulterior motives in president Bush's plan multiple times, and indeed, Cindy alluded to the fact that a presidential plan could easily fall victim to partisanship and ulterior motives. Yes, congress is also partisan, but as opposed to a single executive, a congressional committee would be bipartisan and thus allow for more balance. The benefits of a bipartisan committee to address science is that in such a committee, it is difficult for decisions to be made based on party interests; if the members of the committee are truly committed to space science and exploration, as they at least appear to be, they will have to at least partly abandon partisan politics and make decisions based more on feasibility and principles of science and exploration.

Additionally, it appears that currently, a presidential “vision” is presented to congress in the form of an overarching budget proposal, and thus can either be accepted or rejected, allowing for no middle ground. I feel that such a practice makes it difficult to develop the most comprehensively successful plan. If Congress were able to address the president's plan point by point, there would be less of a problem, and perhaps a compromise could be reached.

One of the most interesting aspects of the debate for me was the fact that both sides argued that the other side's strategy would lack continuity. Thesis one argued that only a president could sustain a mission to Mars, and thesis two argued that, given that the actualization of a mission to Mars would take much longer than a maximally eight-year term, changes in the presidency could be catastrophic for such a mission. Both theses made good points, and Gil Ghattain further supported thesis one when he said that changes in congress could similarly shake up a mission. What this illustrated for me, then, was not the superiority of one side over the other, but rather the fact that it may not feasible to sustain a multi-decade mission to Mars at all . Given all that is being sacrificed scientifically, it raises the difficult question of whether it is a good idea to embark on a Mars mission at this time.


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