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 Rosiak (03/24/04)

The class discussion on Monday came to a big surprise to me because I forgot that we planned on talking about the Antarctic Dry Valleys, none the less by a speaker that has been there for 17 field seasons. I thought the lecture was great and made me aware of many aspects about what it takes to research there that I never thought about. Although we did not discuss as many of the actual scientific (geological) aspects of the Dry Valleys as I had liked to, I still felt that our discussions were very informative and in many ways relative to class.

I feel that there were two ways we could have approached discussing the Antarctic Dry Valleys: discussing the geological sciences of it and compare it to Mars, or discuss what it takes to explore the Antarctic Dry Valleys and compare it to exploring Mars. From my point of view it seems clear that we discussed the second option with some insight from the first. I never thought that it was that dangerous to explore the Valleys, although I always figured the scientists needed to get considerable funding and as well as considerable forms of organization. The idea that these scientists actually worked together like the military never crossed my mind. Push Ups? Higher authorities? I always figured it was a mutual relationship between scientists with some shared and varied interests to pursue while at the Valleys.

Everything that was discussed could be related to a Mars exploration mission if one should happen. Similarly like the Antarctic Valley explorations, there is a huge risk that is taken from the start when even trying to get to the location. It was said that about every five years a helicopter goes down on its way to the Dry Valleys and that after four hours of flight there is a no comeback time where there wouldn't be enough fuel to come all the way back if needed to turn around. It's pretty obvious that there runs an even higher risk with a manned mission to Mars. As one of the articles we read stated, there is an extreme risk of radiation that the astronauts are exposed to during long periods in deep space. Moon missions only expose astronauts for a few days while a Mars mission would expose them for months. I am sure that there is also concern over the limited fuel supply on a long mission to Mars which adds even more risk to the mission. As for the military aspect, similarly as the Antarctic explorations are sometimes treated in military respects, the space missions are as well. The March 18, 2004 article about military involvement with NASA stated that they will work together to make safer and less expensive aircrafts, as well as work together in many other projects. As we have discussed the Antarctic explorations for a while had involvement with the Navy.

I feel that the most interesting and most important idea we discussed was the issue of whether or not we need a manned Mars mission. Dr. David Marchant said it himself that there are things that we simply cannot do with robots and extremes that we may never touch unless we send human exploration to Mars. In the deep-rooted foundation of discovery in the history of human exploration, we have always made ground breaking discoveries by accident and without actually looking for them. He said that robots are great at doing what they do, but they will only do what they are sent out to do and the purpose they are designed to fulfill. From his 17 years experience of exploring the most desolate and Mars related surface on Earth, he feels that in order to find out things that we simply cannot yet anticipate we need to send manned missions to Mars. It would bring a whole new perspective on the planet and we will not be watching the planet through a monitor screen. It's not until we actually see it with our own eyes that we will fully comprehend what Mars is really like. In all those aspects, I totally agree with him.

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