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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Lillian Ostrach (02/11/04)

For thousands of years, Mars has been observed by people on Earth, but until the relatively present-day, not much knowledge has been gained about the Red Planet. The evolution of the Space Age has occurred in five major stages, with each stage building upon the observations and technological advances of the previous group. It has been this quest for knowledge of the unknown that has continued our interest in Mars, as well as the mistaken perceptions that have been circulated about a Martian race.

Professor Putnam's candid discussion about his relationship with Percival Lowell was intriguing, as well as his frank relay of Lowell's motivations, observations, and discoveries of the planet Mars. In comparison with other astronomers of his time, Putnam asserted that Lowell was not as cooky as he seemed. Lowell had a passion for exploration of the unknown, in order to discover new frontiers and possibly find parallels to ourselves in other worlds. Humans are always in search of virgin lands and for improvements in science to make living life easier (i.e. machinery to perform mundane tasks). With these thoughts in mind, Lowell anticipated and exhibited the desire to explore in the late 19th Century, and felt that his observations should be made public.

Many critics feel that Lowell's discoveries were an attempt to gain stature and fame at the cost of devaluing “pure” science, however, the public's quest thirst for exploration rejoiced at Lowell's, and other scientist's, research involving Mars and deep space. It is important to note that science, perception, and myth are intimately connected, however, in the public's thirst for learning, it is frequently forgotten that science slowly accumulates knowledge, and thus the public perception becomes skewed. Additionally, science is a mere approximation of truth, an attempt to mold the world, its people, and everything known into an understandable model, so that every aspect of life and learning and society can be classified into neat descriptions. Because of the inability to classify Mars in relation to “Earthly” terms, as well as the nature of human beings to relate the universe to themselves, interest in Mars has only increased over the years. The early astronomers can be recognized as the founders of our present day interest in Mars exploration, and this interest has grown over the years. When assessing total interest in Mars, the perspective has grown episodically as a direct result of research and discoveries. Since the Mariner and Viking missions, and even for a time before that, the possibility of life existing on Mars has created somewhat of mass hysteria. The thought of life on Mars is exciting, and is a check on human superiority as well. If we look at history, the perception of the role of human beings in the cosmos has severely changed over the centuries. Humans have gone from being the center of universe to practically insignificant specks on the (now) only life-sustaining planet. We truly have no reason to believe that we, as humans and intelligent life forms, are unique. In fact, humans are marginal species, and the thought that life only exists on Earth would be, quite frankly, a huge mistake.


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