Paul Berry (03/24/04)
Although I have no prior experience in the discussion topic today (general geology in artic landscapes), I was nonetheless interested in many aspects that were a part of our discussion. The movement of ice in particular interests me, as well as how glaciers form the landscape, as I think that this has particular importance in the northern lowlands of Mars near the northern polar ice cap and in the southern ice cap. I feel that if we are to colonize Mars, or have humans live there for extended periods of time, they must be near a source of water, and the poles are the only places to possibly obtain quantities vast enough to sustain the needs of multiple human explorers. The artic dry valleys provide a solid proving ground to observe and record natural movements of ice and the formation of the landscape outside the reach of human variances. We are careful to not assume that Mars is exactly like what we have here on Earth, which is true. Nevertheless, if I have learned anything while here in college about the governing laws of physics of the universe, it is that no person, place or thing is exempt from its grasp, including geological formations. What we observe here on Earth may not be exactly what we will find on Mars, but it will be somewhat similar, regardless of the characteristics of the Martian planet (such as its lower gravity, smaller size, and lack of tectonic plates).
Several aspects about the way that scientists lived while in the arctic dry valleys also intrigued me for a variety of reasons. Before class, I asked Professor Head what psychological aspects accompanied being isolated for long periods of time. He gave me an answer that led me to believe that there are two types of people that go out to the dry valleys to study: group 1 likes working in teams, but being able to work alone on tasks that can contribute to the advantage of the whole. Professor Head told me that he liked the quietness of solitude, and that it allowed him to think and take advantage of being alone in that he could solve problems better that way. Group 2 is only slightly different, in that while they are just as big of a contributor to the group effort and as equal a team player as group 1 people, they are more socially attached than group 1 people. Professor Merchant described to the class his view on isolationism out in Antarctica, which I felt made him fall under the group 2 category. He said that being in isolation tended to make them feel too alone at times. Isolation doesn't bother them for short periods of time, but when days amount to months, being in the wilderness of Antarctica becomes very taxing on the psyche. This was evident in the way that he described his selection process for undergraduate and graduate students wishing to go into the field with him. While not entirely impossible, being picked was quite difficult. Professor Merchant truly has it down to an art after seventeen field seasons, noticing small subtleties in those that he interview (for example, being able to notice other teammates' needs and intuition and motivation). To be able to endure this is the greater of all the evils that characterize the harsh living environment of the Antarctic, which also include small living spaces, lack of cleanliness, long days, less than normal sleep, bad food, the weather, and the persistent danger of natural topography, that while beautiful, must be respected (as was the case for one of Professor Merchant's young students, who tore the ligaments in a knee after sliding down an ice sheet).
This as a whole is of extreme significance to a manned mission to Mars, even if the natural dangers will be different, the danger of the fears of the human psyche could certainly undermine any well planned manned mission. Astronauts and cosmonauts aboard Alpha (the ISS) without doubt feel the effects of isolation, despite their relative proximity to Earth in spatial terms. Alpha is very near to Earth, and in a very structured orbit. A manned spaceship headed for Mars would take roughly a year to reach its destination, all the while being isolated from the protection of its home world both mentally and physically. While the scientists of the dry valleys must contend with frostbite and steep cliffs, astronauts (or cosmonauts?) will be forced to sustain themselves under a constant blanket of solar radiation, not to mention the lack of days and nights, of which we are so accustomed (this is mimicked in a different fashion in the dry valleys, as day lasts for many weeks before night falls in late summer). My overall assessment is that if I were to be trained to go to Mars, I wouldn't choose to live in the dry valleys only because it would be similar to Mars, but not exact, which in that business is for all or for naught. The artificial environment that we must look to train astronauts in must be in some ways like those people living in Antarctica though. The extreme isolation, ripping winds, small living quarters, abnormal sleeping periods, and constant mental and physical stresses are all observed in both Antarctica and will be observed occurring upon the first men and women to land on Mars. This leads me to believe that although Mars is very different from Earth, the first place that we must look to to find similarities and to prepare our own astronauts must not be many light years away, but in out own backyard.