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 (05/12/04)

Monday's class followed a different format than others we have had. It was interesting because we heard everyone's opinion, even the people who don't normally talk, but unfortunately, this left little time for discussion of the idea that was raised. I think it would have been better if we had alternated speakers from the two different theses. This would have given some opportunity for a dialogue between the two. As it was there was no opportunity for thesis one to respond to thesis two and I think the ideas were explored less thoroughly than they could have been.

The question in discussion was whether or not NASA's goals should be dictated by the president and approved by congress or Defined by congress to begin with. I think this made for a difficult kind of debate because the two points of view really bleed into each other and its hard to make a strong argument for either side without making points that could also be used by the opposite point of view. This happened frequently in class, the same point was used to support both arguments. For example, both sides said that the other side would be corrupted by partisanism and, therefore, would be unable to formulate an effective, workable plan for the nation's space program. To me, this does not seem like a good argument for either side because there is no doubt that all of American politics is corrupted by partisanism. No matter who is supposed to decide on the direction of space exploration, their views will be partisan.

The most frequently harped upon point made by the people from thesis one is that a large group of people like congress, with a wide range of interests and agendas can not make simple, quick and effective decisions about thing like space travel. Though the deliberation required to pass a plan through congress could be good for working out details, it is not so good far formulating ideas. I think this is true. In general, congress does not set plans in motion; they usually work with the president and review the policies and plans of the presidential administration. Congress acts as a check and supporting entity for the president, it does not take a leadership role. Leadership is the role of the president and something like a plan for the nation's space programs requires real leadership.

The most popular point put forward by the group for thesis two was just about the opposite of thesis one's main point. Thesis two people frequently said congress should be in control of giving NASA direction because a group of people would be able to formulate a better plan than one person.

Both groups kept saying that it was best to make sure that NASA's plans were not part of anyone's political agenda. On the surface this makes sense but the more I think about it, the more I think it's not so bad to let NASA be involved in political agendas. NASA was founded as a political agenda and did all of its most impressive work as part of a political agenda. I say it doesn't matter if things get done as part of someone's political agenda, as long as things do get done. If we could make politicians think that supporting NASA would help them politically, I guarantee NASA would have more money and accomplish more.

I think since NASA was set up by the presidency and has always been under presidential control, the president should be the one declaring NASA's long-term goals. However, I think in order to do this properly the president needs to be more involved with NASA and come up with much clearer plan's than the current president has. The president should be able to give NASA goals, but he needs to be well informed about what is realistic and worthwhile.

To me, the best possible solution would be to give the top administrators at NASA full control over what NASA should do. I don't think it's really necessary to have outside direction from people who don't really know what's going on and what goals are reasonable for the administration. People who work directly for NASA are much better informed and could make better decisions for its future than outsiders. Maybe what NASA really needs is stronger leadership both from without and within.



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