James Kytta (04/28/04)
The telecom conversation we had on Monday with astronaut Johnny Scott was an eye opener to say the least. A lot of the ideas presented were very surprising, and not something I expected to hear from someone like him. I was bewildered when I walked out of the classroom, that's for certain.
One of the very specific reasons for going to space was the fact that a single planet species will not survive. He presented the figures that there is a 1 in 5,000 chance we will be hit by an asteroid in the next 100 years, and a 1 in 500 chance that a super volcano will surface on the planet. This reason alone was enough for him to support exploration of other planets or future hospitable environments. The possibility seems real and I don't doubt it, yet it seems to me that regardless of the planet one is on, there is just as likely to be some similar disaster waiting to befall it. Additionally, I know I for one wouldn't want to survive in a universe in which my home planet no longer existed. Destruction of earth is one instance in which I would have no problem “going down with the ship.” While I believe the fear that would come from publicly announcing the end of earth as the motivation for exploration of other planets, I don't believe that it is necessary, nor proper motivation. No species is really meant to survive forever, nice as it may be. Also, colonizing the moon seems redundant to me, as any fate the earth would meet would directly affect the moon by throwing it out of orbit and hurling through space (or similar) at the very least. This is of course just my opinion, as Dr. Scott has his.
As for the specifics of a primary mission to Mars, I was impressed with how finely detailed Dr. Scott's thoughts were. He discussed a 100% bio-recycling environment that sounds like it is straight out of science fiction but which he has seen work on and is following. Also he knew a considerable amount about current developments in rocket propulsion technologies. He spoke to the possibility of using solar rays on the moon to ship power back here to earth. I am not sure what his position at NASA is specifically, but I believe the research he's doing into all these different areas is above and beyond what he is supposed to do, and his continued interest and involvement is very admirable.
The talk was overall very enjoyable and offered yet another different and valuable viewpoint to take into consideration in our further talks about Mars exploration.