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 (03/17/04)

My initial reaction of the CAVE was “WOW!”…I really had no idea how amazing experiencing virtual reality could be. I was with the second group of students who explored the CAVE, and I was totally blown away by the computer graphics and options available to me for exploration of the surface of Mars. I was particularly interested in viewing the Viking 2 Landing Site, and one of the valleys, Tiu Vallis, within the valley network. We were able to pinpoint the coordinates on the map of Mars and “fly” there in the CAVE.

The Viking 2 Landing Site was interesting, mostly because of the lack of impact craters and relative flatness of the surrounding surface. Tiu Vallis was very interesting, and even though the ratio of human to Mars' land was not to scale, the valley bottom was very deep. Navigating to the bottom of the valley was interesting, and the sheer size, even without the scale, was impressive. Moreover, the 3D visualizations were stellar—it was very strange to be “flying” over land and have an impact crater lip go through your midsection…

Additionally, we explored the North Polar Cap along the route Professor Head took when he explored in the CAVE, and the detail was fascinating. I thought it very interesting that where there was an absence of ice within the confines of the polar cap, the surface was similar to that surrounding the cap and other parts of the surface in different locations. We also traversed the Olympus Mons area, which was very fun. That was where we had our “flying” lessons…who knew that traveling “under” the surface could be so fun and who would have thought that the underside of Olympus Mons would look like the surface but inverted? (ha ha – just the computer images working the way they were written…)

After our experiences in the CAVE, we had a quick discussion revolving around the provided questions. First off, we talked about Spirit and Opportunity and their strengths and/or weaknesses. I think that for now, until more knowledge about the planet is gained, the rovers are sufficient for our exploration. However, their biggest weakness is their lack of speed. If they were faster, more exploration of the surface could be completed, which could increase the knowledge of the surface as well as increase the experiments completed in different areas on the planet. Human exploration could certainly complete many tasks in less time, however, I believe at this point, a thorough assessment of the risks associated with traveling and living on Mars has not yet been accomplished. I believe that until this has been achieved, human should not be sent to Mars. Indeed, there are many risks that are known about human space exploration, and some of these risks may not be escaped, however, I think it important that these risks be minimized to the greatest possible extent. Space exploration will never be completely without risk, however, we should aim to make it as risk-free as possible.

Additionally, I can think of really only two fundamental questions at this time, especially since we've been talking about life/water recently, and are as follows:

•  (obviously) Where is the water? We know it's somewhere…underground perhaps?

•  What other life-forms can exist besides oxygen-requiring and chemosynthetic organisms? Where would these life-forms have existed?

To answer these questions, I would continue the approach NASA is utilizing at the present time with the rovers. Additionally, I would search the Northern Lowlands for liquid water deposits underground. I don't know how this could be accomplished—by a drill, perhaps? Moreover, the life-forms issue could be explored by analyzing data from Mars as to chemical compositions, and re-creating those conditions on Earth in experimental boxes, with the elements. In addition to having a control, many variables would be presented, such as changing surface temperature, chemicals present, atmosphere, etc. I don't have the knowledge (yet) for a more detailed explanation of how these questions could be explored, however, I am confident that they can be answered.


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