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 (04/08/04)

This class covered a lot of different topics. One of the most interesting and pressing topics to me was the discovery of methane in the Martian atmosphere. This seems to be a significant finding no matter what turns out to be the source of the methane. I suppose it will be a long time before they can be absolutely sure where the gas came from. I imagine there will be experiments on future Mars rovers that deal with that very question. If the methane does prove to be a product of some kind of life form, its significance is obvious. However, even if it is not from a life form, it is important. If the gas proves to originate in volcanic activity, we will probably know a lot more about Mars' current volcanism. If the origin if the gas is cosmic, it may teach us something about the asteroids that collide with Mars. In any case it is an important discovery because it tells us more about the Martian atmosphere.

The central question behind the discussion in class was why people explore and what we get out of it. Some people thought that people explore because it is a genetic predisposition to explore and expand. This would be a useful evolutionary mechanism because it would spread the population out and optimize resource usage. Other ideas about why people explore were a conscious effort to get power, a desire for knowledge, and for direct competition with other people. I think the human drive for exploration encompasses all of these ideas. I think that the idea that exploration is genetic is very plausible. I also believe that people explore to gain power and knowledge, which is a form of power, and to compete with each other, which shows power.

Something that has come a up a few times this semester is the idea of examining the heat shield from the rover's entry for ideas about the Martian atmosphere. It seems that with the limited analytic abilities of the current rovers this would not be possible. But in the future it could be possible to design the heat shield to show us something about the atmosphere and how it burned.

Professor head was telling us how they used falling objects to create mini earthquakes on the moon in order to find out more about the moon's composition. I wonder if it would be possible to design some part of the orbiter to fall off early and crash into mars in such a way that it made a hole in the ground that would be useful for the rovers to inspect. As it is the rovers spend a lot of time digging and hoping to find things that are already dug up. With all the kinetic energy generated in the decent to the Martian surface, we should be digging holes instead of creating heat.

A lot of the class focused on the zero-g airplane experiments done in Houston over spring break. This is interesting to me because it is another instance of finding an analogue on earth for a situation that we want to study elsewhere in the solar system. It also goes with the theme of how to carry out good science in situations that are less than ideal and get useful results. I think it would be very interesting to do this.

The playing of “a signal from mars” surprised me very much. I think if you asked a contemporary musician to write a piece of music called a signal from mars, you would get a very different feeling from it. We often hear about

We spent most of the rest of class discussing the president's initiative and what it means to us. Though we didn't go into very much detail, we did discuss the issue of how much money is to be spent on the project briefly. It is true that most of the public speeches about NASA and the space program seem to avoid the issue of money. Though there is something to be said for creating public excitement, at a certain point the issue of spending must be raised. If money wasn't an issue at all, I think there would be no question that we would send people to mars, but since it will be a fairly expensive program, the issue of spending must be discussed.
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