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 (03/03/04)

From the beginning of the discussion with the two doctors, it became apparent to me that the Soviet space program was much more serious than I had previously thought. I am ashamed to say that I had fallen victim to the misconceptions that characterized the Cold War and struck so much fear into American hearts and caused them to not only see Russians as an inferior people, but also see their country as a inept war-mongering nation incapable of industrial prowess. This notion of mine was quickly undermined by not only Dr. Khrushchev's and Dr. Basilevsky's intellectual capabilities, but also their knowledge of the American space program and the progress we made in comparison with their own advanced space program. Before yesterday, I hadn't known that we were actually behind in the space race by a large margin in the early years following the Second World War. Naturally, I knew that with the launch of Sputnik we were placed second to the Russian program, but in terms of years, I had believed that our catch up time was minimal. Clearly, when we were still thinking about leaving earth's atmosphere, the Russians were years ahead and making preparations for sending animals and eventually Yuri Gagarin into space. What amazed me after I thought about it was how we actually caught up. I eventually answered my question after asking Dr. Khrushchev what barriers impeded the progress of the Russian space program, and he gave me a simple answer: money. Understandably, for both American and the U.S.S.R financial backing for such a large scale project, especially one that had many doubts to its successes as well as innumerable avenues of failure, was limited. Recovering from a large scale war only a few decades before, which had no doubt taken its toll on both the populations, morals, and financial potential of both nations, most likely only further hindered the odds of triumph in both space programs. In this aspect I believe that the US had a slight advantage, for as we had had many casualties in the Second Great War, Russian numbers far exceeded our own, with civilian and military deaths calculated at over 30 million. One must ask themselves how a nation can recover from such a loss.

When I thought about the creation of the Russian space program, in conjuncture with what our two speakers told us, I came to the conclusion that although the US might have been technologically more advanced, the Russian space program was initiated by leadership and global visions of technological dominance. I hope I do not mislead any readers in my own opinions, but as I understood it, under communism the U.S.S.R was striving to dominate technologically if not physically, the world. This might
have been the foundations for their space program, but despite the reasons for the U.S.S.R's actions, in my opinion they were the leaders whom the US followed in creating a platform for space exploration. Uncharacteristically, we delayed our decisions to further our own technological ability by researching travel and science in zero gravity, when throughout the century following the isolationist period after WWI we had been so decisive in our intentions and interventions on a global scale, ranging from entering into war with Japan as well as opposing communism itself and being aggressive in the global trade economy. However, I think this changed after the Sputnik "wake-up call", which eventually propelled us into the space race and led to the Apollo missions.

When contrasting the Soviet and American lunar programs, one must not think about how we succeeded and the Soviet's failed, but how both nations succeeded in one way or another. While it was impressive that we landed men on the moon (which was permitted on account of a number of reasons highlighted above), an important point to make is that the Soviet's did what we still haven't been able to do; which is create an automated lunar rover capable of such longevity. Before yesterday, I hadn't known that the Soviets had landed rovers on the moon. The reason that I mention this is because of the longevity of the Soviet rover, which was estimated at close to eleven months. Our best attempts at a rover have fallen quite short of that mark. It is true that our rovers have more technologically advanced experiments and capabilities, but the endurance of the Soviet rovers have yet to be matched by our engineers.

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