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 (02/18/04)

Our discussion yesterday revolved mostly around the connections between religion and science, as well as questioning what exactly religious is. The different religious observances of classmates regarding yesterday's seminar discussion with Reverend Janet Cooper-Nelson presented a very special atmosphere and provided us with a resource for debate and questions. I was very impressed with the Reverend's ideas that G-d created science and the impulse to explore in humans, and how religion, like science is constantly changing. This idea that exploration and curiosity is an innate desire created in us connects religious beliefs and science as these traits are imperative to science, for without these drives, there would be no reason to pursue hypotheses and questions. Moreover, this drive in humans has had pronounced effects on life as we know it today, branching from technology to medicine to education, as well as other fields of study, including religion. I find it hard to believe that I could find a Rabbi or a Minister or another religious authority who would deny that the innate perseverance of the human race to make known the unknown and question facts presented to them has helped gain a better understanding of the world around us.

As a Jew, I was taught that G-d created the world and everything in it, as contained in the Old Testament, however, I can't believe that G-d knew exactly how things would play out on our lovely planet. To me, science is a reality, and while not always concrete, I can look at slides of monkey brains my father prepared and view the moon through a telescope. I can mix chemicals in a test tube and perform experiments on planarium to view, firsthand, the regeneration of living tissues. I think that while G-d had a plan, G-d's inclusion of curiosity in human nature is evidence that G-d's plan is a guideline that we, as a race together, must fill in with advancements or improvements. While I believe very strongly in the importance of science and evolution, I also believe that religion is important. However, I do not believe that religion must always be concretely defined and should, instead be reliant upon some sort of faith, be it in G-d or in an idea or dream. My desire to become an astronaut is proof enough to me that science and religion can be interconnected since I believe so strongly in space exploration and myself, as well as in my Jewish faith. This is a very brief explanation of my personal view on my religion, and as such, I know that many people will not agree with me, but I ask only that my opinion be respected and recognized.

An interesting topic discussed in seminar was the superiority complex of humans, the idea of “specialness,” how humans are the “chosen people.” Even today, as a society, we think we are the center of the Universe, and as individuals, we often forget that “the world does not revolve around us” (or so I'm led to believe by my mother). As a race, we like to think that we know everything, however, it is quite obvious that we do not, and now—more-so than in earlier times—this ignorance is being recognized. I think it daft to believe that life does not exist elsewhere especially since we discover new planets and stars in the sky, as well as new species on Earth, practically every day.

In addition to these new discoveries, regardless of the outcome of the search for life on Mars, our future will be invested in space travel. I think that should life be found on Mars, the push for human space travel to establish a permanent base on the Moon and start human exploration of Mars would drastically be accelerated. If life is found on Mars, machines can only do so much research, and astronauts will be required to carry out further, more complicated, experiments and research on the Red Planet. Moreover, if life is not found on Mars, I think that human exploration of the planet would be carried out because, once again, machines can only be programmed for a finite amount of activities. We might need astronauts to dig around or perform complicated experiments with additional tools in order to verify the absence or presence of life. What if research on Earth proves that life can exist in Martian conditions, in fact, that life can exist in a totally different environment than we require, and the explorers currently on the planet do not have the capabilities to test for these new properties? We then have two major options: to launch another explorer and hope that it will be lucky and actually work when it lands on the surface OR we can send astronauts to the planet to carry out experiments and rely on cutting-edge research tools and communication with scientists back on Earth. Regardless of the outcome, I believe that amazing technological advances will be made in the name of science and that it will be only a few more years until astronauts are residing on the Moon and traveling to Mars. I sincerely hope to be one of the first to have these opportunities.



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