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 (04/08/04)

This Monday's class consisted primarily of a tying up of loose ends, a description of Lillian's trip to Houston over break, and a short discussion of the nature of exploration. While it seemed more unfocused than other classes we have had, it is certainly important to make sure that assignment logistics are discussed and that projects such as the “Signal From Mars” transcription are presented.

As I stated in class, “A Signal From Mars” was quite a disappointing piece of music. It was harmonically simplistic, occasionally a little bit awkward, and fell precisely in line with the style of the time. The composer most likely was trying to capitalize on current trends, both social (the Mars craze) and musical (the march), making no attempt to make forward-looking music. Had it been the first march ever created, it would be revolutionary; however, this is extremely doubtful.

Lillian's description of the Space Club's trip to Mars, however, was much more exciting. It brought to light the intense physical stress under which astronauts must perform and made extremely clear why the astronaut selection process is so specific. Often, when people think about glamorous careers such as being an astronaut, a powerful politician, or a professional musician, they only consider the positive aspects of the job. Such a description of the harrowing process of training for and entering a weightless environment can serve as a reminder that any job, no matter how attractive, has its downsides.

The class concluded with a short discussion about the nature and reasons for exploration and its relation to genetics. As I see it, there are two possibilities for any species when its environment becomes threatened: it must either adapt or move. The most successful species are those that can do both. Humans are the most successful species on the planet (besides bacteria, possibly), having asserted a large degree of control over the Earth over the past few millennia; it would seem that to be so successful, humans must have a natural desire to explore. However, there are humans living in all sorts of unpleasant conditions, such as areas of extreme cold or areas that experience strong seasonal storms. These people have created technology to help them adapt, ranging from the crude (northern native techniques to keep warm) to the high-tech (hurricane warning systems). It is therefore very hard to tell whether the human desire to explore is a genetic trait enabling survival or simply a function of the same natural curiosity that keeps us continually advancing. Perhaps our scientific curiosity is the human version of a genetic desire to explore, allowing us to adapt in new ways with every scientific advance.
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