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 (05/05/04)

Last class we spent a considerable amount of time synthesizing a collective opinion concerning President Bush's space initiative. In addition, we analyzed some of our discussions last week with astronaut John Young.

Our reanalysis of last week's discussion was helpful to me, as I felt that we didn't get to talk about our impressions of John Young very much the week before due to the length of the telecon and the unusual circumstances of class. I was pleased to hear that many of my classmates were surprised by John's rather unorthodox idea that NASA should devote much more time and energy to finding another planet for humans to coexist on. My initial impression of John Young was that his theories were rather alarmist in nature. Discussing him further on Monday helped me to better understand that he was not necessarily calling for an immediate race to colonize a planet, but rather requesting that NASA consider laying the groundwork for an extremely far-off goal. Realizing the scope of John Young's vision helped me to respect him as a thoughtful long-term thinker and view him as less of a man holding a “The End Is Near” sign. I found comments about the emotional aspects of sending some humans to a new colony and leaving others on earth compelling. Though it seems like a basic, sterile process, we must consider the plight of those who would be leaving the world they know and heading to a radically new environment. In the case of an impending impact, it's also troublesome to think of the residents of both colonies, those doomed to die and those who will simply see their first home and species exterminated. In addition, the question still remains as to why any other planetary body would be that much less likely to be impacted or destroyed than earth, what the quality of life would truly be like for humans in an environment like Mars', and whether or not we need to simply accept our extinction and allow ourselves to follow the natural course of planetary evolution. Our reanalysis also allowed me to see some parallels between John Young and the topic of my term paper, Percival Lowell. Though both took strong stances on issues which were controversial, whether or not their particular view ended up being correct, the fact that someone was asking the far-off questions and thinking into the long-term is extremely important.

Analysis of the President's space initiative also generated some fruitful discussion. After some background reading on the economic and political aspects of the initiative, we began discussing the history of initiatives in general, and speculating about why Bush Senior's initiative failed and why this one is any different. Unfortunately, I have found that in our class, and often at Brown in general, a topic which is confronted with uncharacteristic closed mindedness is the administration and policies of the current President Bush. Though he lacks some basic charisma and has created some rather regrettable policies, I feel that often times discussions here with his name attached to them are doomed to be negative. Perhaps it's because collegiate discontent with whatever administration is currently set up seems in vogue, but to me it poses a much greater challenge to think about what could be done better, and what policies have been effective in the administration, rather than to constantly criticize. I noted quite a bit of criticism of the Bush initiative based solely on the preconception that our President is “dimwitted,” though, as I pointed out in class, he likely was not the primary source of the development of this initiative – clearly experts were consulted and I'm sure NASA had something to do with the synthesis of its own future direction. As such, I'd like to see our class try to keep an open mind in the upcoming debate about the initiative. Especially in a class where most of us seem highly in favor of many of the initiative's goals, I think it is important that we look past the messenger and impartially assess the plausibility of the plan.

Next week's “debate” concerning the pros and cons of the President directing the future of NASA promises to be a proving ground for our class in terms of whether we can effectively assess these goals in spite of the biases we might have in either direction.


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