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 (03/03/04)

First of all, I would like to express how much I enjoyed the visits of Drs. Khruschev and Basilevsky. They were both engaging, insightful speakers and it was fun just to listen to them talk. And I am SO excited for bliny night I can't even express it. Now, to more pressing topics…

The comments of Khruschev and Basilevsky were certainly enlightening, and made me understand both the “space race” and space exploration in general in a way that I had not previously. What was particularly interesting to me was Khruschev's statement that it was “coincidental” that Space Exploration ended up becoming so important. We have talked a lot about the human need to explore, as well as about reasons that outer space, as opposed to the less-accessible depths of the ocean among other locations, is the next frontier. Especially coming from a generation in which space exploration has been always been at the forefront of exploration, it was interesting to hear a theory that spoke of it as being the result of almost random circumstances. Similarly, it was incredible to me how, according to Khruschev, coincidental the entire space race itself was.

My limited knowledge of the “space race” in Cold War history always led me to believe that, at the time of the race, outer space was clearly defined as the disputed frontier that both the United States and the Soviet Union were absolutely dying to get to, but Khruschev painted a very different picture. I was surprised to hear him say that his father was reluctant to get involved in the space race and intrigued by his analysis of the way in which the first Soviet satellite went from being a bottom-of-the-fold story to a full page headliner only because the propagandists had seen the immense affect of the story both in the Soviet Union and in the United States.

So it appears almost as if it was the propaganda power that the exploration of the moon provided in both countries that made it a worthwhile scientific adventure. This notion challenges again for me the ideas that I have held of science as an objective discipline. Clearly it is not, but I am still surprised every time it is pointed out to me so blatantly. I feel that everything that can be studied and explored is worth studying and exploring, but is interesting to me that the way that we choose what to explore is not chosen solely by scientific worth and quantity of helpfulness to humanity. Even now, although the exploration of Mars is extremely interesting to me, I become frustrated with Bush's zeal for Mars when there are so many other pertinent scientific issues that he chooses to ignore, such as global climate change, the AIDS epidemic, etc.

I was also very interested in the role that cooperation and competition, on both a national and an international level played in the space race. I had always understood that competition between the United States and the Soviet Union had propelled space exploration, but I hadn't previously appreciated the competition that existed within the Soviet Union itself. Competition, I feel, both helps and hurts the process of scientific exploration. On one hand, the desire to reach a certain goal before a rival, speeds ahead the process of scientific exploration, something clearly seen during the Cold War. However, on the other hand, who knows what discoveries could have been made and explorations embarked upon had the Soviets and the Americans, as President Kennedy had apparently wished, worked together. One can understand the way in which competition may have actually hurt space exploration by examining what happened in the Soviet Union. The negative affects of exploration are most clearly seen in the way in which Korolev was unable to get the proper engines because of a rivalry with the engine provider. On a broader scale both within Russia and between Russia and the United States, scientists may have compromised quality of scientific exploration for expediency and bravado. I think that is interesting to weigh the positives of both cooperation and competition against the negatives of both. Is there a more desirable middle ground?

In upcoming classes, I would like to hear more of the “inside story” of US space exploration, analogous to what we heard and read about the Soviet Union.



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