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 (02/11/04)

In class yesterday we explored many topics that challenged how we thought about the different characteristics of Mars and the implications Mars has had as a neighboring planet since antiquity. The topics that I found most challenging as (apparently the only one) a Catholic is how the church and the religious world would be affected should life be discovered elsewhere. I enjoyed hearing from Professor Putnam, after having read the articles the day before on the early 20th century astronomers like Lowell, who pushed the boundary of our scientific desires and made Mars the place it is today. I think that without the advances in Mars study and telescopic exploration that Lowell and others of his time like him, the spark in public interest that exists today would have much less fervor than we currently know it to have. For the first time in 40 years people are excited about NASA again, because of real scientific progress and success, and not because of the quick attention that some pay when accidents occur. Mars is a goal, whether attainable or not right now, but still worthy of consideration that has the potential to give the American people and the world as a whole direction. We have proved our ability to be able to work together in creating Alpha, and I think that despite the tremendous costs, Mars is worth shooting for.

After looking over the question list before class, I tried to think of a few decent answers. I found myself stumped but was able to come to a conclusion about questions 1,2 and 5. I think fear is the main driving force to searching out life, for not only our generation but all the generations trailing back to ancient civilized times. Even the planet's name was chosen for the god of war, who most definitely incited fear into normal men and women of the time. The ancient Egyptians knew that there was this red dot that moved around, but for all they knew it could have been the war god. This leads me to question number 2. Humans are willing to conjure up the worst possible situation, regardless how the circumstances may seem. We all know that when we allow our imagination to run rampant that we can invoke good and bad thoughts. This has driven us to try to explain or unfound those thoughts by attempting to study the source of those fears. Although this feeling is most definitely not apparent in present - day, in the days of Lowell, which were not that long ago, fear of anything resembling civilization on Mars was always in the back of every persons mind who knew of the studies made to explore the red planet. Included in these people were, and still are today, is the modern church. Modern religious establishments are a focal point in many peoples lives, and even for those that do not follow any church, I still think that they would be affected since religion is a major characteristic of all humans in some way. As I said before I found the topic challenging while in class, especially when people mentioned how it would affect firmly established ideas and principles that have stood for hundreds of years. I would adhere to whatever mandate or explanation came down from Rome, but to think that I wouldn't try to come up with my own explanations would be to say that I don't know myself too well. This again leads us back to fear, as I am positive that there are conscious objectors to finding life elsewhere because they are afraid it would undermine their holy authority just as I do not want a turtle under a rock to destroy my church.

When we began talking about the rewards of going to Mars, in a round-about way, I couldn't help but be a little pessimistic. I see no other true reward in sending men or women to Mars other than for purely scientific reasons or for exploration purposes. No one is going to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere to mass produce ammonia, and I doubt any large mining operations to extract and refine iron is scheduled for digging any time soon. Needless to say, I am considering how a manned exploration to Mars could benefit us financially, which is not something we can feasibly consider at this point. However, exploration doesn't always have to be about profit, and I think that profit in a different sense can benefit not only the scientific community but also the spirit of our nation and the world as a peaceful civilized society, which are attributes that I do think will be important if little green men do ever show their faces.

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