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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Julie Spector (03/17/04)

Though I've read and heard countless times that Mars is a desolate ice ball, I don't think it quite rang true until I experienced the CAVE.

I was extremely impressed that we have the technology to create such a virtual reality system. I know that virtual reality is something that has been done before, but its programmer attained a more intense level of respect from me since the surface of another planet is mapped. I'm no programmer or digital expert, but is it possible to make the reality more realistic? (I love that phrase, it makes me think of the chief geneticist in Jurassic Park wanting to change his engineered dinosaurs.) I don't mean to change the surface of Mars—though to include several green men running around would be extraordinarily hilarious—but to advance the technology: a head set that shows the Martian world wrapped around you, as if you were actually standing on the surface. While this would require truckloads more satellite data, I was always (mistakenly?) under the impression that this sort of virtual reality is feasible. Also, a bunch of us were joking about this while exploring the sector that included Olympus Mons, but how feasible is it to hook up a similar control to X-box or Playstation?

Can you imagine seeing Olympus Mons in person? I want to see it so I can realize how short I am in comparison. In my physics class, we watched a very corny video about an experiment with µ-mesons to show time dilation, and at the end, the Professor says, “so you see, µ-mesons make molehills out of mountains!” (man did I crack up) with reference to a North American mountain. All I can think of is the size of Mt. Olympus relative to the above mountain, and how that molehill must have turned into a capillary wave, or something of similar dimensions!

I found myself particularly drawn to the base of Olympus Mons. The top was slowly sloped (sort of how I imagine a “typical” volcano), yet at the base (approximately a third of its height from the Martian surface) there was this sudden, nearly vertical drop to the surface. Why? I was also interested in the flatter plains; as we approached them, they became more like punctuated rolling hills (the only words I can think for a description); what sort of math describes the general pattern of the contours? I'd imagine some sort of fractal, but I wouldn't know and what I really want is to take multiple courses on this sort of math and come back to the CAVE to look at the geography in this perspective. I was also fascinated by some of the areas that indicate water was once present, though I have to admit that part of me wishes they were canali and built by some species. There's such romance to that wish, but at the same time I feel the better romance lies in the reality of the planet: it is gorgeous. It is a mystery. How much more romantic can you get? Then again, I suppose we have to question the word “romantic”: does it apply to only fantastic situations not based in reality, or reality, or a combination of both? I see no flaw or contradictions in the combination, but I imagine there are differing views on the subject. Irregardless, Mars is beautiful and romantic and scientific and chaotic and orderly and such a mystery, and we need to send people there.

While there are areas that robots would thrive on, I don't think this rules out human exploration. I imagine it's a nightmare to program a robot to climb mountainous areas, and a human doesn't need that programming. At the same time, robots are more efficient and both accurate and precise; I see the sense in sending robots to cover any area, plus there is no danger to human life, or risk of contamination via a human one way or the other. So, as usual, there are pros and cons to both ideas, and we should just do both.


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