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 (03/24/04)

In the past few classes, a question which seems to come up over and over again is whether or not humans should explore Mars. I have been wavering about this topic since the beginning of the semester, and find that each new class or discussion with an outside source alters my opinion more and more. At the beginning of the semester, I had never truly considered why we wouldn't send humans to Mars. I had always assumed that human space exploration was the best way to make discoveries, and had never considered it as a political tool to please the public. Subsequent classes left me reconsidering the viability of sending humans to Mars, looking at human exploration as Bush's ticket to reelection, and wondering why NASA wouldn't simply stick to mechanized missions. As our discussion this week approached, I felt that perhaps my opinion would be changed once again. I thought that after learning about the Antarctic dry valleys, I would lean even more towards robotic exploration. Figuring that humans could do research on earth and apply the findings to rover data from Mars, I thought that the dry-valleys would prove that rovers would be the only way to go in the future. Before our class on Monday, I had a few discussion with friends from my dorm concerning whether or not exploring earth and extrapolating our findings to explain Martian phenomena was plausible. I received mix responses, as this seems to be quite a debatable topic. The majority of the people I asked thought that continuing to explore our own planet is something that needs to be done anyway, and that there is likely a chance that Earth's geology could be applicable to Mars'. Others felt that extrapolation is simply a poor idea, and that we need to obtain human exploration results from Mars because it is its own planet and not necessarily directly related to Earth.

Listening to Dave speak about the dry-valleys actually pushed me back towards favoring human exploration, something I absolutely did not expect. I entered this class assuming Dave would think exploring Mars was unnecessary due to the extensive research that can be done in a relatively safer and less expensive manner here on Earth. On the contrary, it seemed that Dave's experience in the field only augmented his confidence in the role of humans in exploration. In fact, before I saw the in-depth study being conducted by humans in Antarctica, I believe I had overestimated the capabilities of rovers. I was very intrigued by a classmate's comment that rovers often only confirm or refute questions that scientists already have about a specific phenomena. He stated that only when humans explore are the most exciting discoveries made. I most certainly agree with this now, and feel that our class should have more discussions about the pros and cons of human exploration. Though the costs and risks are high, the benefits might be too great to ignore.

I felt that Dave's talk on the dry-valleys was very well done. Though I was interested to hear a bit more about the scientific aspects of the region, the focus on the logistics of field-work and Antarctic personal relations was intriguing. I hadn't much considered the isolation factors of Antarctic field-work and the elaborate measures that must be taken to maintain a team environment. Learning about the process that must be gone through to approve the exploration and choose team members was also interesting, as it is an aspect of all exploration that may be overlooked by the general public.

It seems that some of the geological features of Antarctica are applicable to Mars, and that Antarctica is in fact a decent analog for the red-planet. Many of the photos we saw comparing the landscapes were compelling and too similar to be ignored. I am conflicted because the combination of Antarctic exploration with Mars rovers seems to be safe and effective, but the benefits of humans on Mars that Dave's talk reminded me of seem lucrative. I feel that this would be a great topic for a future class debate.


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