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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Stephanie LaRose (04/21/04)

Today was a long-anticipated class in which we had a telecom with David Scott, the Apollo 15 Commander who was also a member of Apollo 9 and Gemini 8. Apollo 15 was special because it was the first extended lunar exploration (with the help of the lunar rover).

Many lessons were learned from the Apollo program that has and will continue to help in other space missions. Very importantly, there must be continuous and consistent funding. This is always a major obstacle in NASA missions because they must be planned years in advance and therefore must know that they will be funded in the coming years with enough money to complete the missions. Along with this, there must be thorough program planning with good management to get it done. Everything must be carefully planned and coordinated. Much of this must begin very early as well. Another key thing is that there be resolve about the missions. Hardships and failures should be expected, even if not welcomed.

All of these key issues are amplified by a manned mission to Mars. It would, all together, take an incredible long time for only the actual mission; about 32 months. This does not include the years, if not decades, of planning that would go into a single mission. It would cost around $600 billion, and this is without room for major delays or loss of resources. Therefore, there must be a solid and strong reason to go and commit so much time, effort, and money on such a mission.

Reasons to go can include political competition. This is what mainly fueled the lunar missions. Environmental reasons are also possible with the hope of finding resources we can use on Earth to replenish its supply and sustain our population. There is also, of course, the science behind exploring another planet and, in turn, learning about the history of our planet and the solar system. Life and other systems could be able to function in unconceivable ways under different conditions than those that exist on Earth. Going to Mars could provide a long-term framework for future capabilities and missions. And finally is the human spirit and determination to explore the unknown. All of these can be combined for reason to go to Mars. They are good reasons and I am sure we will eventually get to Mars (assuming we don't wipe ourselves out), but it may not be the right time.

Technology is ever increasing and becoming better. Eventually, though, there needs to be a freeze on how updated the technology will be to get to Mars. So much planning must be done that one cannot deal with different technology every year. That would involve re-writing the whole mission. There is a tremendous cost to going to Mars right now, at the technological level we have today. And with the cost comes cuts to the programs that are being performed in space today which are just as important.

The crew for a mission to Mars would have to be tested even more than those who went to the moon. If anything goes wrong on the way to, from, or at Mars, most likely there would be no way for them to return safely. It's a seven month trip either way, and they would stay about 18 months on the surface. From hearing Dave Scott talk and what Professor Head told us about Neil Armstrong and other astronauts, it already seems difficult to be the type of person who would be capable of going on such a mission. They need to be so committed and have such resolve, it is incredible. Dave Scott pushed off major problems in his missions as if they were nothing and he never thought that he wasn't going to return home. Crew members must have multiple skills. Combinations should include people who are pilots and physicians, and scientists and engineers. They must be resilient, efficient, reliable, and committed.

Dave Scott viewed the Moon as a place to test possible crew members to see how they perform in space and on missions. This is a very important idea and one that I had not thought of before. It's a very good way to test them. They would need to be the best of the best to make it to Mars and back safely and having done their jobs.

All in all, it seems too much work to get manned missions to Mars just yet. Robots are doing fine and would still have to be working on the surface for decades before we would be able to bring humans to Mars. I think that is sufficient for our exploration urges and our budget and technology. Talking with Dave Scott made it very apparent that we should not push for a manned mission to Mars yet.

I really enjoyed talking to Dave Scott. He gave a unique insight into the NASA space program and who an astronaut should be. When asked what he thought of the president's initiative, he very bluntly said it was not a good idea, and I agree. It was very nice to talk to him.
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