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 (03/03/04)

As a student with an interest in history, I found our discussions last class to be particularly engaging. In fact, I felt that having Drs. Khrushchev and Basilevsky come to speak with us was truly an honor. In the days preceding our discussion with the two Drs., I spoke to many of my friends and family members and brought up that we would be discussing the Soviet Lunar Exploration Program, and that we had the good fortune to have two of the most pertinent speakers on the topic coming to our class. Needless to say, many people I spoke to were extremely impressed with the opportunity we were afforded.

I found the discussions to be much different than I originally envisioned. I, like many others, often find myself guilty of learning about certain periods of history through the eyes of a history textbook. Whether it be a textbook written by an author within the United States or abroad, too often reading the view of a single historian skews opinions on periods of history. The most eye-opening aspects of this discussion, for me, were the facts about the Soviet Union's space program which had previously been entirely omitted from the history of exploration I studied in school. Perhaps as a result of the United States being the first to put a man on the moon, or due to the closed frame of reference of a textbook author, I was subject to a form of propaganda in the omission of Soviet space history. I was particularly interested by Dr. Khrushchev's description of the “politics” of space exploration. Prior to our discussion I had no idea that Mars exploration may have been possible in the 1960's given the right amount of money. Also, I simply had never considered the fact that putting humans on a celestial body just isn't that desirable. I was shocked that in all the years of my awareness about exploration that as a result of the media and my surroundings I had just always assumed the most scientifically sound way to retrieve data was putting humans on a planet. I think many of us may be victims of this thinking, and it really changed my perspective to hear Dr. Khrushchev talk about how this idea of putting a man on the moon came more from the race aspect of space exploration rather than the scientific. His comments that without the space race Soviet exploration would have been much slower and would have been mechanized intrigued me and made me seriously consider why President Bush is currently pushing to pursue human exploration of Mars.

Another interesting and perspective altering aspect of our discussion was that of the Soviet perspective on American exploration. Being from America, I am a child of a country that supports and justifies its every move, and hearing the point of view of someone so close to the politics of another country was very informative. I appreciated hearing perspectives concerning whether or not America's decisions in space exploration were prudent, and also learning about the Soviet Lunar program that was previously shrouded in secrecy to me.

In terms of outside discussion, I spoke with my family and a few friends on the general topic of the space race. I learned many people were in a similar position as me. The majority of my friends, save one history buff, didn't know much of anything about the Soviet Lunar program. I thought this was very telling in terms of how much the average American is aware of outside of the US moon landings and the Apollo program.

I think that we would benefit from additional general discussion about the space race as a class. I'd be interested to hear some sort of a debate as to whether it's a better idea to put humans on a celestial body or mechanized instruments, and what psychological attachment there is to the idea of using humans. I look forward to bringing this topic up next class.



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