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 (05/12/04)

Monday's class, sadly our last, was perhaps the most rigorously structured of the semester. Each of us spent the week completing background readings on the President's initiative and synthesizing our opinions. For the majority of Monday's class we were each allotted a five minute time slot to voice our opinion and support our chosen thesis. The topic in question was whether NASA should be directed by Presidential initiative, or if its direction should be decided by balanced discussion with Congress.

I was glad to see everyone took the “debate” seriously and had a variety of points to make concerning the theses. Though I initially supported thesis two, I chose to support the first thesis in order to challenge myself to think contrary to my own prior bias. Largely based on the criticism of Bush that I have been noticing lately, I decided it would be an interesting exercise to go with the thesis that supported his role in the space program. I found it difficult to support having one man decide the direction of an entire agency of the government at first. Upon further consideration though, I realized that having one person draft a plan gives instant direction and can be the radical move needed to get the ball rolling. I found references to Kennedy's past initiative by many of my fellow classmates supporting thesis one particularly pertinent, because this precedent seems to prove that Presidential initiative can lead to clear-cut success. One criticism I have of myself, and several others supporting thesis one, was our quickness to blame Congress of being affected by partisan politics and bureaucracy. Clearly, the eclectic environment of Congress could be of use in terms of making sure NASA's future satisfies national objectives and is in the country's best interest. The variety of opinions and committee structure could help to optimize the objectives. Also, I feel that many of us neglected to realize the partisan politics which affect the President himself – with one man sculpting NASA's future, any bias he may have could affect the entire program.

Of course, it is difficult to support any thesis without having some holes in your argument. As Professor Head mentioned during the concluding discussion, the two theses purposely had a fuzzy line between them. In my opinion, the fact that choosing one was almost like choosing the lesser of two evils was what made this such an interesting debate. In terms of further defense of thesis one, I found Andrew's arguments to be the most compelling. He mentioned that if you go to make a discovery and you already know what you are going to find, you aren't really making a discovery after all. I think thus far we have been expecting a plan which itemizes too many of the exact steps that will be taken in exploration. Andrew is correct is saying that if we knew these already, there would be no reason to move forward. As one article we read concerning the initiative stated, we should give the plan an “amber light,” thus allowing the exact technical and exploratory details to be fluid and updated as technology and knowledge evolve over the long-term.

Several compelling arguments were given in defense of thesis two as well. Shveta brought up the interesting point that international threat united us more than the President's initiative during the Cold War, which was a great counterpoint to Dan's assertion that national pride was a selling point for further exploration. I agree with those who supported thesis two that the extra consideration and discussion that NASA's future might be subject to if it were not left in the hands of the President would be beneficial.

After everyone's statement was competed, we had some general discussion about the two theses. I think the fact that we identified the problems of establishing a plan that would hold up over long periods of time, especially in regard to terms of office, is significant. Realizing that a plan must be sustainable even with changing Congresses and Presidencies is an important step in planning for the future of NASA. During our discussion, we did tend to mention many of the pros and cons of the initiative itself, rather than whether or not it should be drawn up by Congress or the President. I think this discussion was still valuable, as the President's initiative is in fact being considered for funding right now, though I feel we may have skirted the issue at times. Overall, it seems that we came to the conclusion that Congress will still be checking the current initiative of President Bush. In essence, it seems both will have the final say in NASA's direction, as without agreement between the two, nothing will ever be approved. As Paul stated, if Congress doesn't work with the President, the President can't work with Congress.

I enjoyed our discussion of these two theses, and appreciated the opportunity to put our class at odds for a class period and see what we could come up with given two fairly distinct viewpoints. I think we synthesized some excellent ideas during the debate, and indeed over the course of the semester. I truly enjoyed spending a few hours every Monday with all my classmates. I feel like we all developed some extremely valuable skills, and benefited from the seminar environment. I look forward to our “reunion” dinner in the fall.


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