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 (03/10/04)

I was quite interested by our discussions on the geological processes and geological makeup of Mars, Earth, and the moon last class. One thing which struck me as particularly interesting was our discussion of plate tectonics. I think it is quite fascinating that we truly don't understand how plate tectonics began on our own planet. I think this fact in itself would be an important point to explain to someone skeptical of the benefits of further space exploration. From time to time we may get lost in the search for extra-terrestrial life in space and forget that many other benefits can come from our findings. I was interested to learn that by examining other planets we might be able to find one in a stage of development similar to what earth's used to be, and thereby learn more about our own planet.

Other items that I found intriguing were the intricate study of the surrounding areas of impact craters and the theory about the moon forming after a large impact with the earth. We read so often that Earth was previously under heavy bombardment, but it was interesting to hear a theory that is not only believable, but gives a reference for the scale of some of the impacts that Earth was sustaining in its early history. The study of impact craters on Mars was of particular interest as well; I found our discussion of the lobe-like waves coming from impacts to be worthy of further discussion. I'd be interested to learn more about the theories concerning these markings being a result of ground water, as well as reading additional material about why they can be found in areas of high elevation, like volcanoes, where water would normally not be expected.

Our brief discussion on the impact crater on the dark side of the moon was also very though-provoking. I personally enjoyed the article on “Why People Believe Weird Things,” as someone who is personally attempting to sort out the mythological elements of religion and religion's cultural significance. The suggestion that the moon would have had a much more important role in our cultural and religious development had the crater been facing, or “looking at,” earth like a giant eye was exciting. Wondering about what effect changes like this would have had on a less-informed society is an interesting cultural question, but it also makes me wonder what unexplained phenomena we currently explain with myth or religion.

After class, I was asked to organize discussion with Dr. Sasha Basilevsky at our bliny dinner. Before attending the dinner, I generated the following list of questions to ask Dr. Basilevsky:

-What direction is the Russian space program headed in now? Do you support its goals?
-What are your opinions on the continued exploration of Mars and the current rovers on its surface? Do you feel that NASA and other space programs should devote their resources elsewhere in the search for life?

-Do you think humans would have been put on the moon if it weren't for the political nature of the space race? Does human exploration of planets have a place in our future or are mechanized instruments the clear alternative?

-What are your specific opinions on President Bush's space initiatives involving more manned flights to the moon and a manned flight to Mars? Online polls show 70% of 100,000 polled believe a manned mission to Mars is worth the risk and cost – do you think manned flights are a political tool used to please the public that wants to see this sort of glamorous exploration?

-Last class we mentioned that crafts could have explored Mars at the time of the moon exploration given enough money. With enough money, what are we capable of today?

-Space exploration is not particularly a regional goal – do you see a future with many nationals collaborating on some sort of international space exploration program?

-If the Soviet space program had put a man on the moon before NASA, what do you think the results would have been? Would we still see the effects of this today?

-In your opinion, what is the ideal scenario for the future of all space exploration?

- Do you feel like politics are more or less involved in current space exploration than in exploration of the past?

-What was the atmosphere like working on Soviet programs? How different was it from the atmosphere in the US?

-What were your personal opinions about the United States at the time of the space race? Now?

- Are you working on any exploration related project at this time? If so, which? If not, do you wish you were still actively involved in exploration?

-What was life like in the Soviet Union at the time of the space race? What was your life like outside of your work on the space program?


I was able to speak with Dr. Basilevsky about a few of these questions. He told me quite a lot about the two types of antennae on the Soviet rovers, high and low gain, and how technicians were working out vector math by hand in order to rotate them so that television signals could be sent back to earth from the rover. He expressed an interest in continued exploration with rovers rather than humans. I spoke with Dr. Khrushchev about several of these questions as well. He expressed general discontent with President Bush and his space initiative, and pondered whether or not Bush knew exactly where he was going with his initiative to put men on Mars. Dr. Khrushchev suggested that politics played a major part in the initiative. When asked what he thought we were capable of today given unlimited funding, Dr. Khrushchev responded optimistically, but claimed that the exploration going on currently is best and should continue. He seems to think Mars is a worthy subject of interest, and claimed that mechanical exploration should be the only type pursued in the future.

I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with these two exceedingly interesting men, and was very pleased to take home my signed route map. I look forward to our explorations in the CAVE next week.


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