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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Paul Berry (04/28/04)

In our telecon with Captain Young I was surprised to see the level of confidentiality that Captain Young had when speaking with us. I feel that I can comment on this directly, and contrast it with his previous statements before class as I attended his lecture this previous fall. In his lecture last fall, he was far more open with his words and personal opinions than he was with our class. I think this may have been partially due to that we were a small selective class that asked specific topic oriented questions while in his lecture more general space-related questions were posed. This is due to the nature of our class, and would only be natural for us to ask Mars mission related questions. However, this is not to say that I am in disagreement with the way that Captain Young negotiated the situation. He was extremely tactful and professional, and although our curiosity demands more, unsurprisingly, Captain Young is in a position where he must choose his words carefully as to not reflect poorly on himself, his superiors, the Space Administration as a whole, or divulge any important information (as the vacuum above our atmosphere is becoming more and more crowded these days, as more nations join our Space Age).

When Captain Young did talk about his visions of the mission to Mars, (other than the semi-reluctant, off the record comment that with the current budget a mission was not possible), he stressed that nuclear and solar power (in that order) will be the way to get to Mars. The general consensus of the class I think was in a similar avenue of thinking. The cost of launching anything into orbit currently is very expensive, and nuclear power would provide a compact, proven way to supply power to the many systems that would be required for the long journey to Mars (this is one point that Commander Garvin and Captain Young disagreed, where Captain Young said that the journey would take around 3-4 months, where Commander Garvin said it would be close to a year). I feel that this would be the most efficient and compact way to accomplish the power needs of the Mars mission space vehicle. Of course there are a few issues that accompany this, the two greatest being the risk to the astronauts and the political repercussions. The risk to the astronauts should be our greatest concern, I believe. The radiation that will be given off will have to be shielded from all parts of the ship inhabited by the astronauts. I think that the best way to accomplish this is to look at the Wolf class submarines that the United States Navy currently employs as the mainstay of the submerged fleet armament. The Wolf class efficiently and compactly uses a nuclear engine to power its entire system, which besides having shortly over a 25 year life span, poses no danger to the sailors working in and around it. The second concern, the political repercussions isnŐt as easy as engineering a new system and utilizing it in a new space ship (as if this was actually easy at all). This is still a delicate topic, where a clear example of which is the 25 billion dollar nuclear protection program that NATO, the UN, and mainly the United States is paying for to see that the chemical, biological, and nuclear experimental data and current knowledge of Russia is kept secret and out of the hands of terrorists. Nuclear disarmament is still being discussed, and was spearheaded by President G.W. Bush in the first few months of his presidency before September 11th. If we are to decide that nuclear power should be the route to choose for the manned mission to Mars, I believe that we have no choice but to continue our currently unpopular worldwide policy of unilateralism. One might argue that we have made many unilateral decisions throughout the history of the United States, but this one would be particularly important. Following September 11th, we have started on the track to become the world-wide terrorist police. Morally, this is a just cause, but physically and financially (by physically I refer to the lives of many that are shattered by the onset of constant belligerence towards "terrorist harboring" nations) it is imprudent. Much like the very conservative, anti-radical policing of communism that we employed following the second Great War, we are becoming an even greater interventionist nation than ever before. The nuclear age accompanies this. With military forces stretched thin and talks of reinstitution of the draft drifting about the national mall, we are becoming a military bully. I say this as a current Marine Corp Officer Candidate, not to debase the American military, but rather to suggest that we need to exercise caution in flexing our military biceps, and be more conservative in the time and manner in which we wage wars, especially when the purpose of these wars are to prevent the chance of nuclear war itself. This will allow better cooperation in the political arena, and therefore greater support for a possibly nuclear powered space craft. Many nations, especially those that fear our foreign and domestic policies would easily accuse us of having nuclear tipped ICBMS or something similar in such a space ship. Even the word nuclear itself raises fear and poses threats in the most steadfast of nations.

Another topic that I found interesting, not only in Captain YoungŐs lecture last fall, but also in the telecon in class was his stress that we need to colonize not only the Moon, but eventually Mars as well. I found this idea fascinating, as I had never thought that far ahead in the future. Surely fifty years is far enough in the future for me, but Captain Young, in his wise state, is thinking in broader terms, not only for this nation, and "his grandchildren" as he put it, but the human race as a whole. Captain Young told us that by 2050 the expected population will consume 900 million barrels of crude oil per day. In addition, we have a 1 in 500 chance of being obliterated by a Super Volcano (three of nine of the planet currently are in the continuous United States) and a 1 in 5000 chance by an asteroid a kilometer or larger within this century. These odds may seem somewhat comforting, but I feel that they are not comforting enough. A saying that I always felt had great meaning has weight in this situation: If we fail to prepare, we will prepare to fail. We have to prepare to leave this planet at some point (so goes the rules of entropy and enthalpy), as the resources of this planet will not last forever, and Mars and the Moon are our only options at the moment.

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