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 (04/14/04)

I would first like to thank Jim Garvin for taking the time out of his vacation to talk to us about a myriad of things from NASA administration to Mars discoveries. It seems that his knowledge and position in NASA epitomizes the grand scheme of what this class is about. Every issue that we touched upon this year has been discussed amazingly in what seemed to be in a short hour of so. I felt our discussions were ideal to improve our understanding of the issues we want to cover.

Jim started his presentation with a quote that said, “Intelligence is how the Universe was evolved to understand itself.” Right off the bat I felt that quote was extremely relative to the ideals of exploration. I feel that quote says that it is in our genes to explore the unknown. It is impossible to gain intelligence and learn new things without trying to figure out and explore what we do not know. We as humans evolve to try to understand our surroundings and ourselves. It is in our blood to expand our intelligence and as a consequentially we must explore one way or another. Yet, I am sure that Jim would in no question support the idea that science and exploration make a perfect fit when it comes to trying to accomplish that goal.

Furthermore, we talked in dept about what the future of Mar's exploration will/can look like in the next few years. The basic theme “Follow the Water” I think is the best strategy we (NASA) have at this point and would not feel that another would suffice. There is so much more we can still discover by examining what evidence water has left behind. Mineral deposits can tell us a great deal, most importantly the length of time that water may have been there, which in turn would tell us even more. Another reason why I feel this strategy is the best we have at this point is that our rovers can do most of the necessary analysis for the clues the scientists are trying to discover. Therefore, until manned missions to Mars, I think our science program is utilizing every possible resource and option we (NASA) have at this point.

Initially I was surprised to hear that a manned mission may not happen until the year 2030 and was disappointed; soon after, I faced reality and realized in the grand scheme of things that amount of time is really nothing. I guess initially I felt that way because we went from learning how to fly to going to the moon in such a drastic amount of time and I thought this would be the case again, but after looking at the barriers between these two times the difference seems much clearer. The barrier between original flight and a moon mission included carrying three passengers out of earth's atmosphere, technology that can withhold a vacuum environment, life support, and an extremely long list of things. They were huge barriers and tough obstacles to go over, but still in our reach. If we look at the barriers now, they are at a much different scale: how to provide life support in space for about a year and a half (not a few days), technology to withstand radiation and to be able to do the necessary tasks safely, and so on. Basically, we have to send a space-station/home/spaceship/transporter/science lab/everything a human needs to survive for a year and a half (both physically and mentally) about 35 million miles away and back! Quite an incredible task if you ask me. Okay, so maybe 25 years does not sound too far away. Heck, if I started driving to Mars in my car at a reasonable speed of 100mph, it would take me only 40 years to get there considering I never stopped, ate, slept, or enjoyed anything. I better start packing, how much should I bring? Better yet, how the heck am I going to bring it all there?

In general, I feel that the time required to travel to Mars is the greatest challenge facing NASA in a manned mission to Mars. How do we supply food, beverages, supplies, clothing, oxygen, gas, god forbid a magazine or two, and so on in such a limited amount of space, multiplied by how many people are on board and by about 550 days. Anyone who can figure that out is the smartest man on the planet in my book. Yet, we can do it, and it is planned to happen in my lifetime and the idea of it still blows my mind away. I believe it will be the greatest challenge and the greatest exploration man has ever attempted.
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