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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Jonathan Russ (03/17/04)

Having the opportunity to visit the CAVE was one of the things I looked forward to most in this course, and it did not disappoint. Flying around the surface of Mars was an interesting sensation; the CAVE's three-dimensional projections seemed lifelike enough that, until I became accustomed to the simulation, I would temporarily become worried when we were about to fly into a virtual wall.

The CAVE could be quite useful in the engineering aspects of Mars exploration; it could be used to pick landing sites and plot the movement of rovers. It could also be useful in determining orientation on Mars; a scientist in the CAVE could predict the view that a rover would have from any point on the planet. From a more purely scientific perspective, a researcher could use the simulation to plot the possible courses of water flow, benefiting from the world view afforded by a three-dimensional view. Perhaps a drawing tool could be integrated into the CAVE, allowing a user to alter the landscape and see the results. The scientist could draw in rivers and oceans, crash meteors into the planet to analyze their impact, or even simulate the effect of a Martian biome; in this way, specific hypotheses about the history of Mars could be developed.

However, it is clear that the CAVE is new technology, and much remains to be done before it can reach its full potential. At the scale at which I viewed Mars, I would have been a few kilometers tall; small objects that would affect a rover's mission cannot be seen at this scale. When higher-resolution data arrives and is integrated into the program, the CAVE will become an extremely powerful tool for such missions. Furthermore, the simulation does not allow seamless movement from one sector of high-resolution data to another; this would make analysis of the areas on the edge between sectors more difficult. Also, the single-screen simulation froze twice.

Perhaps in a few decades, CAVEs will become standard in homes, much like computers have evolved from large, expensive machines that took up full rooms to small household appliances. Personal applications of such technology could include Earth simulation (perhaps to plan travel or to see weather patterns in the area), three-dimensional videoconferencing or television, or more lifelike video games. The possibilities for this technology seem limitless.
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