Lillian Ostrach (04/21/04)
Speaking with Commander David Scott on Monday was truly an amazing experience. It was intriguing to finally hear from an (former) astronaut, since we've spoken with mostly the “ground crew” (so to speak) who have been involved in much of the technical aspects of space exploration. While the previous speakers had strong personal convictions regarding space exploration, Commander Scott presented a fresh, unexplored view of the topics we have been discussing. Much like last week, the teleconference began with a power point presentation in which Commander Scott discussed the general challenges of human exploration of Mars.
His discussion was very thought provoking and led me to believe that above all, his main concern was for safety and that while he supports human space exploration of Mars, he does not believe the time for that is now. He maintained that the main objective of the space exploration program needs to be identifying the challenges facing the human exploration of Mars, which include the considerations and technological advances and engineering advances which must be achieved before we can go. His argument was supported by the technology he was provided with when he traveled to the Moon in Apollo 15. The Saturn 5 was the most powerful launcher ever built, was 100% successful, and such a launcher would be required for a mission to Mars. Moreover, similar technology, like the lunar rover, needs to be engineered in order to complete a successful mission on Mars. With Mars, there is no room for mistakes, no “Apollo 13,” since the trip is so long and no real way to fix a faulty connection once out of Earth's orbit, no way to “abort” the mission and return to Earth's surface.
The typical mission to Mars, using today's facts and figures, will take almost 3 years. Three years is a long time to be stuck with 5 other people in a tiny space ship and then on a hostile planet. What would happen if one of the crew members became very ill and the medicine to treat them was not available? What if the oxygen system failed on the ship? There are many “what ifs,” each of which requires thoughtful analysis, because, quite frankly, every possible mistake should be planned for in advance. A human mission to Mars will be quite expensive, and we can't afford to overlook a risk factor in an effort to get humans on the planet sooner, rather than later. Regardless, there were 21 automated expeditions to the Moon before the first human mission was attempted. This should tell us something, especially since the Moon missions lasted around 12 days and is much closer to the Earth than Mars. We should take 21, if not more, missions to Mars before we seriously consider human spaceflight to the Red Planet. It is not in the interests of NASA to jeopardize the lives of astronauts and employees to satisfy the desires of others. With the tragedies that have occurred over the years, including (but not limited to) Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia, I believe that NASA, now more than ever, is putting safety as the primary concern of space exploration so future tragedies can be prevented.While Commander Scott talked about all these things, and answered our many questions, he stressed the importance of adventure. Adventure stems from curiosity, and is required in order for space exploration because an explorer must have a drive for adventures. As an explorer, one is quite often the first person to experience many new things for the first time, and if one lacks an appreciation for adventure, the mission will have been a waste. It is true that we, as humans, have an innate curiosity to explain the unknown, however, it varies from individual to individual. Thus, those individuals with the strongest curiosity and sense of adventure are perfect for the next generations of space explorers and technicians/engineers. With a sense of adventure, imagination runs rampant and is freed from the confines of pre-existing thoughts and models. With a sense of adventure, anything can happen.