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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Michael Frederickson (04/28/04)

After spending the last several classes speaking with professionals involved with NASA, from Jim Garvin to the two astronauts, I feel like I have been able to generate the most understanding from the basic structure we have set up for questioning. Several students chose to ask similar questions to each person; whether it be about the president's initiative, what could be done on Mars with humans there right now, or Congressional funding, comparing and contrasting the answers given in each telecon has been an important resource for interpreting and synthesizing answers for these questions.

I must admit that during out talks with astronaut John Young I was very surprised. Much as I looked forward to speaking with Dave Scott, John Young's extensive space exploration experience was very appealing. Being able to speak with someone who flew on Apollo 10 was particularly exciting for me, as I thought it would be interesting to hear about what it felt like to be so close but not actually land – to be the last flight before we actually walked on the moon.

Of course though, like many of my classmates, I think I was shocked at the vigor with which John Young urged that we “get off this planet.” Asserting that such natural disasters as supervolcanoes and asteroid impacts have created a situation in which we have a 1/455 of being wiped off of earth within one hundred years, John Young speculated about why we aren't trying to populate other planets right now. Perhaps the most striking was that his idea of the future almost sounded like a conspiracy theory. If these risks are real, John certainly has a point that we need to find other planets if we are going to attempt to perpetuate the human race. It is possible that the theory sounds this way because we simply don't hear much about our own destruction in the media. This could be because we don't want to think about our own demise, or the media and scientists don't want to alarm the public. John suggested that we should make finding a planet to colonize our number one initiative and goal, and the public should be fully aware of the current risks. It surely seems a worthy initiative, though somewhat far from the direction that NASA is moving in. I highly doubt this will be a highly publicized or pursued initiative, given how almost outrageous populating Mars or the Moon seems at this point and given the already apparent inability of the country to commit to relatively short-term goals in space. It was certainly surprising to note this contrast between Young and Scott, Scott who seemed to think we should slowly undertake scientific human exploration but only very carefully, and Young who seemed ready to pour the world's budget into finding another home in the cosmos.

I agreed with John's assertion that a long Mars mission is best, I think it would obviously be useless to go and come right back: as John said “you're not going to learn much in 30 days.” Surprisingly, I thought that given his background on the precursor mission Apollo 10, John would support test missions to Mars to make sure everything is just right before a landing is attempted. John seemed to be totally against this, saying that we should simply go for it in one shot. This seemed rather risky to me, but perhaps with the right research and engineering it could be cost-effective and successful.

John Young was certainly a fascinating and experienced person to speak with, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity. Contrasting him with Dave Scott was quite informative, as you can see the astronaut tendency to not be phased by problems and always have confidence in the equipment in both of them, but can also see where they differ on such points as why we should go to Mars. John's genuine fascination with space was inspiring, and you could tell he had experienced priceless moments when he described being able to jump six feet in the air flat-footed in 1/6 gravity. John concluded with “it's possible that our children and grandchildren could be living and working on the moon, and that would be neat.” Having the opportunity to hear such a new opinion from an opinionated, intelligent and experienced man was truly a pleasure.


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