James Kytta (03/24/04)
I found Professor Marchant's insight into work in Antarctica extremely interesting when he presented this past Monday.
The recurring idea of total immersion is a topic that I can closely relate to. Dr. Marchant directly spoke of the “home away from home mentality,” and gave examples of those that tried to bring their home with them as much as possible to Antarctica. He suggested that the more practical approach to going to Antarctica for the extended research stays that scientists are now taking is to leave home at home. This is a philosophy I myself was able to apply when I studied abroad on my own for a year in Finland. I saw that those who tried to recreate their home life in Finland were much more likely to get homesick and less productive overall as individuals. They just moped around. Expeditions into the Antarctic aren't cheap, so when one goes there everything in ones power should be done to see to it that the supreme level of productivity is realized.
This places a lot of responsibility on the person in charge of organizing the trip (something Prof. Marchant seems most seasoned at). It is unfortunate that the planner loses so much valuable time during which s/he could be working to deal with the human interactional and logistical issues. Through many of the science courses I am taking this semester I am starting to see a highly humane level of science that I think many people often miss out on because they automatically put scientists in the white coat in the lab and forget that scientists are people just the same as they are.
I also found the transition for the main objective of Antarctica a fascinating topic. In the beginning, using Antarctica as a place to explore seems to be but the natural starting point. The land must first be evaluated. These days, however, it is almost exclusively for scientific purposes that people travel to the land. The nearly inhabitable continent has given scientists as pure an environment as they are going to find on earth in which many valuable experiments can be conducted.It is interesting that the development into comparative science between the dry valleys of Antarctica and Mars has only happened within the past few years. This is something that, when I learned of it, I thought had been going on for a much more considerable amount of time. I believe this link will be important in planning future missions to Mars because having experience in a very similar region will give scientists a boost in their ability to plan for either manned or robotic navigation of the Martian surface. Additionally, it may be that Antarctica will give scientists a better idea of where to look on Mars for, among other things, signs of the ability to sustain life.