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 (03/24/04)

Yesterday's class was great! The guest lecturer, whose name I cannot remember, was extremely talented. He needs to teach a class at Brown. Seriously. While the topics weren't what I expected (I thought we be discussing the pros and cons of the Antarctic analog in more depth, so a lot of basic geo(?) and planetary comparison, much like two weeks ago), I'm glad he discussed the logistics and people-oriented aspects of the field.

In particular, I found his description of psychological tests most intriguing. I will try to remember it in each subsequent job interview: simply open the window. It actually seems to me yet another incidence of Occum's Razor—the simplest solution is usually the answer. When you want to cool down, open the window! So great! Today in math I thought about this as we parameterized a particular integral into u-v coordinates: the easiest way to parameterize is in terms of the functions already given, which (to me) is analogous with opening the window.

Back to Antarctica: I thought the lecture illustrated rather well the demands and rigor of human exploration. Except in Mars, there is no helicopter, there is no McMurdock (spelling?), it is you, your fellow astronauts, and your space vehicle. Disregarding all physically potential situations and/or catastrophes, I'm afraid to imagine that sense of isolation. Though it must be beautiful, I can see it also overwhelming the mind, potentially inducing terror and/or panic. How does NASA test for this? I know of training facilities from reading I've done over the years, but Mars is a good deal different from the moon or International Space Station. No matter how much testing you must do on Earth to prepare astronauts for the isolation, certainly that training must go out of the roof (or atmosphere in this case, har dee har har) once you're actually on Mars.

Though we only broached on the topic, I am curious about the interchange between scientists and explorers. I tend to think there are two general situations: 1) uncharted physical geography and 2) uncharted anything else, be it the atom, a flower, a poem, or hairspray. In the first, you have explorers: those who go out and see what that uncharted geography is. That explorer can also be a scientist if he or she makes some sort of deduction about the geography he is charting, so more often than not the explorer also plays the role of the scientist. Then you can have purely scientist, in which the scientist goes to the only recently uncharted geography and makes logical deductions. If the scientist happens to discover some sort of minute geography in the recently uncharted geography, the scientist can behave as an explorer.

In the second scenario, the role of the scientist and the explorer has no distinction: the scientist/investigator is exploring the uncharted “area” or “topic” (be it atom, poem, flower, etc) by making deductions about the area or topic; conversely, the explorer is being scientific by exploring this untreated area/topic through scientific analysis. Once again, it comes down to definition, and since definition is so relative (no matter what people try to do to the system!!), each person will see the roles of explorers versus scientists in different ways, as well as pretty much every other issue.
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