Jonathan Russ (04/21/04)
This week's class consisted of a discussion with former astronaut Dave Scott, commander of Apollo 15. He described in some detail his expedition to the moon, which was the first to include use of a lunar rover. Later in his presentation, Scott described the process of setting up a mission to Mars and compared it to the process of setting up a mission to the Moon.
I found particularly interesting Scott's combination of appreciation for the more human elements of space missions and his pragmatic approach towards their setup and execution. In this duality lies part of what makes any type of exploration so natural: it utilizes all parts of our humanity. The development of any mission, especially one so complicated as a mission to the Moon or Mars, must be undertaken with large amounts of planning and, as Scott emphasized, “consistent funding” and extra money in case of changes in the overall plan. The mission itself must also be undertaken with care and pragmatism, but the specific goals of the mission do not comprise the entire expedition; an important aspect is the experience of seeing the Earth from the Moon, or of seeing a moonscape from the ground of the Moon instead of from Earth. It is these experiences that comprise exploration just as much as the planning and scientific goals.
Also interesting was Scott's analysis of President Bush's proposal, which he called “ill-advised.” He noted that there was no real plan as of yet. Funds would be diverted from current scientific research to a Mars mission; those funds would be used for planning, but to make a proclamation like Kennedy's at this stage without truly analyzing what would be necessary for a Mars mission (and I doubt Bush has) is premature. In Scott's analysis, an expedition to Mars would take 14 preliminary missions, 30 years and $600 billion—more than six times as much as the recent Iraq finance bill. Even without working specifically towards a manned mission to Mars, costs will decrease in time as technology advances, and other scientific goals will be achieved in the meantime.Finally, when asked how he would respond to “conspiracy theorists” who believe that we never went to the Moon, Scott replied, “No comment.” His refusal to respond causes me to wonder how many people actually believe that, and how many of those would actually express their opinion to an astronaut who has been on the Moon. The number is probably surprisingly large.