Hannah Pepper-Cunningham (03/17/04)
At the risk of sounding trite, the CAVE was SO COOL!!!!!!!!! I have to admit, however, that I probably wasn't using as much critical thinking as I should have been while I was in the cave. Because I was busy being in awe of all the virtual reality and getting dizzy while my classmates and I dove up and down and sped over the surface, it was hard for me to concentrate on the significance of what I was seeing and experiencing. I think that such concentration was necessary given that what I experienced was certainly not to scale. I went to Ares Vallis, and while I definitely got much of a better idea of the features of the terrain, because I had not accurate perception of them, it was hard for me to think critically about either their significance of the way in which they may have been created by an ancient flood
Being at such a vantage point as the CAVE allowed for, I felt assured that humans would most certainly have the capacity to explore Mars by foot. However, this does present some problems. In order to cover a lot of ground, which would probably be preferable, as the Martian terrain is so varied, the astronauts would have to travel great distances, which would be difficult on foot, suggesting that it would be optimal to bring a car, if one could be transferred. However, the disrupted and extremely uneven nature of the terrain that I saw in the CAVE suggested that it would be difficult for a car to traverse. Assuming that a car could be transported, a plane could probably be transported as well and would have many advantages over a car, such as the ability to fly(haha). If robots were to be considered, I would suggest a robot that could fly. With great speed.
What do I think are the four most fundamental scientific questions about Mars? 1. If there was once water on Mars, how much was there and where/why did it go? 2. How has the chemistry of Mars' atmosphere changed in the history of the planet? 3. How has the temperature of Mars changed throughout the history of the planet? 4. What has the time frame been for the above changes? I don't think that I have half as much knowledge as I would need to even begin to address how one would answer these questions, but I'll take a stab at it anyway. As to questions involving water, I think that Spirit and Opportunity are headed on the right track by analyzing rock and soil samples and looking for evidence – like the recently discovered jarosite – of water. In order to discover how much water was present, I assume that geologists would have to examine the extent to which geological features of Mars have been affected by the presence of water. This could be done by detecting how widespread evidences of water such as sulfur and jarosite are, as well as how deep into the planet such evidences extend. In addition, scientists could attempt to analyze the presumed effects of bodies of water and floods on surface features like Ares Valles. This analysis might help them discover how much water was present on Mars at the time of such floods.
To discover evidence of altered atmospheric chemistry on Mars, I assume that scientists would look for evidence of chemical compounds that would only exist in atmospheres with certain specific chemistries. Similarly, in looking for evidence of climate change, scientists would probably look for chemical reactions, combinations, or evidence of phase changes that could have only have taken place under certain conditions. Analyzing past chemical and thermal conditions might lead to clues about why the water disappeared and where it disappeared. In looking to discover the time frame for all of the above, I would suggest using a method similar to carbon dating. Spirit and Opportunity do not possess the capabilities to do most of the above analyses, I believe, most notably the chronological dating. If I were planning the exploration to Mars, I would send vehicles that would be able to bring soil and rocks back to Earth without being altered by radiation in descent (this would be difficult). It would, however, be easier and cheaper than using humans. While using humans might make looking for specific features on Mars easier, it would also increase possibilities of contamination on the planet.