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 (04/28/04)

The discussion with John Young raised new issues for the class that we had not yet discussed. Many of the concepts Capt. Young talked about were things that most people in the class—and probably at NASA—had not given much thought to either because some of them seemed very far-fetched or because they are issues that are easy to believe have no importance to us.

I think the main issue that John Young mentioned that was new to us was the idea that single planet species do not survive. He pointed out that the odds of the planet being hit by a large asteroid or human life being obliterated by a super volcano are not bad. In the next few hundred years there is a good chance that human kind will have to deal with such an event. I think many people are quick to dismiss these kinds of warnings as far-fetched and it is easy to just ignore it. It is a common human behavior to forget about a problem or danger until it is present. In this case, by the time the problem is present, it will be too late to do anything about it. Capt. Young pointed out that in order for the species to survive, we will have to spread out and occupy more than one planetary body.

I think many people in the class took this to mean that he wanted to move the entire human race to Mars as soon as possible. Obviously that wouldn't help us very much because we would then still be a single planet species on Mars instead of earth. What Capt. Young was saying was that it would be good to have a number of people on Mars large enough to keep the species going even if all of the people on earth were killed. I think that is a good goal, but I don't believe it's plausible in the near future. I think it'll be a few hundred years before we have that many people on Mars. But I think it will never happen if we don't start thinking about it now, therefore, I am glad there are people in NASA like Capt. Young who have long term goals in mind. However, I think Capt. Young may not be very good at conveying his ideas in a way that allows people to take him seriously. I think he needs to make it more clear that his ideas are long term, maybe very long term goals, otherwise he runs the risk of being overlooked and seen as crazy by the general public. I got a hint of that from the class, I think because they saw colonizing Mars soon as wishful thinking, they weren't willing to take his good ideas seriously.

Captain Young also mentioned the problem of overpopulation and overuse of natural resources as a reason for exploring the solar system and sending people to other planets. I think this problem is far easier to identify with and maybe far more real and pressing than the problem of asteroids and volcanoes. Unlike the asteroids and volcanoes that have a chance of becoming an issue in the near future, overpopulation and resource depletion are already a problem and will be a much bigger problem in the near future. This is something we will have to deal with. Unless we are careful, we could make the earth uninhabitable on our own without the help of an asteroid. Not only would it be good to get more space and branch out in case this planet becomes uninhabitable, there may also be resources to find on the moon and Mars. In the short term, collecting resources from other planetary bodies seems preposterously overcomplicated and expensive, but I think in the long term its bound to happen.

Though going to other planets is a solution that may work for both the overpopulation problem and the asteroid problem, I think there may be better short-term solutions. Both of these problems could plausibly be solved right here on earth. Obviously, the overpopulation problem should at least start to be thought of while we still live on earth. We need to start to be better about our use of resources. We need to be more careful about our environment. It would be good if we could be more careful about the number of people we bring into the world. Unfortunately, getting the world to work together on some of these things may prove to be more difficult than moving everyone to Mars, but we should be trying harder. I have a feeling we're going to look back in fifty years and wonder why we didn't do more before it was too late. As far as solving the asteroid problem from earth goes, I don't know too much about the scientific possibilities of it, but it seems to me that if we could figure out how to survive indefinitely on Mars, we could certainly learn to survive a nuclear winter here on earth.

The other thing that Capt. Young talked about the interested me was the Chang-Diaz engine. I wonder why NASA is so hesitant to support such technology. It seems to me that if we are going to be successful in going to Mars, the technology will need to improve. I think NASA should be looking more closely at more radical technologies, they may hold the key to accomplishing their goals.


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