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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Marshall Agnew (04/21/04)

Dave Scott had some very interesting things to say in class on Monday. His opinion on the Mars project and the president's initiative were not quite what I expected to hear from an astronaut, but his arguments were well grounded and made sense. He seemed to have thought through the idea of sending people to Mars very carefully and reached many conclusions that I have not heard from other sources about the possibilities of a human Mars Mission. His ideas about what would be necessary for the success of a Mars mission were clear and direct.

Mr. Scott reiterated the to me the idea that the main problem with getting to mars is not technology or desire to go, its getting the right kind of funding. He said that the program would require decades of continuous, consistent funding. Not only would large amounts of money be required, they would be required in a predictable timeframe. Of course, politics and economics are not predictable and the chances of having decades of economic stability and a congress that never changes its mind about national budget concerns are almost non-existent. Mr. Scott pointed out that the only way it might be possible to maintain a consistent budget for the project would be to maintain a consistent interest in the project by the public and by politicians. He said that for such public support to be possible, there had to be a reason to go that people could understand and agree with.

The other thing Mr. Scott said would be required to get to mars was a well planned out program and a management structure that could make timely and effective decisions. The management must be focused, which is another indicator that we need a clearer goal for the project. If there is no clear goal it will be hard to make decisions with confidence and get things done right. If there is no signal goal, the project might try to do too much and fail. Something else that was said that I saw as very important was that there must be resolve in the face of hardship. If we undertake this project we have to be willing to accept that there will be problems and be willing to overcome them. This seems obvious but I think it may be one of the most overlooked issues for the program and could ultimately be its undoing. I'm sure there will be major problems on the road to mars. It will take strong leadership to hold the program on course when problems arise. The greatest danger is that if it is harder than it seems to carry out the project, it will cost more than we expect and congress will lose interest. We will have put a lot of time and energy into doing something that never gets done.

Mr. Scott also harped on the necessity to be more careful in the planning of this project than we have ever been because there is absolutely no room for error. If anything goes wrong, its over. This is a point that I took for granted until I heard it from him. I never realized just how detailed everything will have to be and how little room there is for error.

Mr. Scott said that he thought the president's initiative was ill advised. I got the impression that he did not necessarily mean that going to mars with people was a bad idea, but that we are not ready to go and the program will not work in its current form. I agree with him. I think that the likelihood of getting the proper funding for the project is none and the country is not willing or even able to make such a long-term commitment at this point. I think the president announced this plan during a time of economic prosperity, and based on that prosperity, the plan has been accepted, but as soon as the economy has trouble, the funding for the project will disappear and it NASA will be left with nothing to do because it has spent too much time on sending People to Mars. However, like Mr. Scott. I don't doubt that people will make it to mars in the not-too-distant future.


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