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 (04/08/04)

All too often we sling terms around without taking the time to properly define them for ourselves. Words which have a seemingly concrete meaning become increasingly abstract when they are considered more carefully, as was the case with our discussion concerning the meaning of exploration on Monday. What surprises me most about our discussions is that we often ask questions which have always been right in front of me, yet I've never considered asking. Of course the word exploration has been a part of my vocabulary for some time, but truly defining what it means to explore; be it terrestrial discovery, personal discovery, or otherwise, is a task I've never undertaken. I felt that we came to an appropriate consensus about exploration by concluding that it is the discovery of the unknown. Though many classmates made valid arguments that more specific forms of exploration exist and thus other definitions are applicable, I feel like we truly uncovered what it is to explore and found a definition which encompasses all breeds of exploration. I was pleased that we spent time discussing motives for exploring Mars or any other uncharted area. Significantly, we came to the conclusion that no one motive drives exploration. In fact, I was surprised when we analyzed how motives have changed over time. For example, during the time of the Soviet “space race” political motives were one major force driving exploration, while today it seems that true desire for scientific answers and understanding is a major force pushing the space program along.

One classmate's anecdote about a moment in “The Truman Show” when Truman is told that the entire world has already been explored seemed particularly pertinent, as it highlights the changing nature of exploring. As features of earth become increasingly well documented and discovered, we look towards space for a new boundary to push. In doing so, the necessity of exploration is called into question. We spent a significant amount of class on Monday on this topic, discussing how a proposal to explore Mars might be pitched to Congress for approval, and I think it speaks to the ever-evolving nature of discovery that the reasons for going to Mars must be so carefully assessed. I believe Marshall commented that money is in fact the only reason we haven't already tackled the challenge of going to Mars, and wholeheartedly agree. We accurately assessed the possibility of Congressional unwillingness to comply with an expensive exploration proposal. I was glad to hear that so many of my classmates thought that we must identify all of the reasons why human Mars exploration would be beneficial. Until we can concretely enumerate our reasons for sending humans to Mars, we certainly won't be able to obtain the funding for it, or convince the public and ourselves that it is worth the cost and risk. Thus, I think our discussion came full circle, in that we able to appropriately assess the reasons why further discovery will be so beneficial to our nation and the world given the utility of our clearly defined notion of exploration.

I enjoyed our thorough debate on the topic of future and past exploration, and think that we synthesized some excellent material regarding what course of action NASA should and may pursue in the future, and more importantly, why.
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