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 (04/08/04)

I have to mention how exciting it was to hear about Lillian's experiences at “Space Camp.” Although it obviously wasn't planned to be, it certainly proved an appropriate segue from last week's discussion of Antarctic exploration and simulation. Almost immediately after Professor Head mentioned how many of us had described having a heightened awareness of the physical and psychological challenges presented by both Antarctic and Martian exploration, it seemed only fitting that Lillian would go on to describe a “camp” in which prospective astronauts are deprived of oxygen and vomit frequently. I can imagine that such an experience might serve as a preliminary level of the “weeding out process” described by Professor Marchant.

A second train of discussion that greatly interested me in class was the discussion of the evolutionary nature of the human need to explore. I wholeheartedly agree with what seemed to be the general consensus that all animals instinctively explore their surroundings. The issue became much more ambiguous, however, when we asked whether evolutionary forces had contributed to the development of a genetically based penchant for further exploration. I feel that there was a lot of convincing evidence given to support such an evolution, such as the examples members of a species who depart from an increasingly crowded area and so have a greater chance of survival. This makes it at least somewhat believable that an exploratory instinct would be evolutionarily desirable. What is less clear to me is to what extent this evolved instinct to explore is responsible for humankind's seemingly fervent need for scientific exploration. How different is the desire to know how many trees with jaguars in them surround my cave from the desire to know the cause of cancer? I think that it would be very exciting to explore this question biologically. If it were feasible, it would be interesting to examine neural activity during different types of exploration as well as to compare this activity across different species. If it were possible to identify what types of cells were active during such exploration, I would suggest examining what proteins had been made in these cells in order to attempt to find a genetic basis for exploration.

I was equally interested in the discussion that we had about the “President's Initiative.” I enjoyed contemplating the issues brought up by different participant's views on effective strategies for popularizing the initiative. Personally, I think that the Bush administration will have the most success in pitching this initiative if they appeal to the idea of an “American Renaissance” on the heels of September eleventh, economic slump, and international disrepute. I was not as confident that a strategy of appealing to an idea of attaining a common good – especially with regards to social and economic issues – through Martian exploration would be as effective. While I would not agree with the assertion that many of Bush's followers are less “intelligent,” I do feel that in our present situation, due to the media and other factors, much of the American public has been conditioned to think that the greatest dangers facing our country today are national security in the face of terrorism and American international sovereignty, not social services and egalitarian development. Additionally, I think that I would not be convinced by a common good argument such as that which was postulated in class. While I am sure that Martian exploration could help the “common good”(as relates to personal welfare, social services, etc.) in some ways, I think that attempting to figure the exploration of Mars in terms of this “common good” simply highlights the fact that exploring Mars would use money that could potentially be used for programs, scientific and otherwise, that would give more directly to the common good, although perhaps not garner as much national and international prestige. This is where I approach the “President's Initiative” with great trepidation; I am aware of the incredible scientific frontier that Mars presents, but feel that there are so many other programs that desperately need money in order to make people's lives livable right now .


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