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 (05/05/04)

Today in class we talked about the current President's Space Initiative. President Bush originally put out the initiative months ago, but since then he has not said much more on the subject—even leaving it out of his State of the Union address. This seems to be the theme of Bush's presidency, however. He has come up with grand, ideal ideas, but does not follow through on them.

In class we identified only three times that NASA has had clear presidential direction. The first was in its creation in the 1960s during the Cold War. The environment was right to have the American people rally around their country and their aspiration to beat the Soviets to the Moon. President George Bush, Sr. also had an initiative, but it quickly faded away. The people were not ready for such a direction. The present initiative may be destined to have the same fate as the one set out by President Bush, Sr. because the idea seems to be a political one, and not a scientific one.

Ideas were discussed in class as to why Bush would bring this up now and why not many other presidencies have in the past. An idea that I agree with is the fact that there are many "bad" issues involving the United States right now. Many negative thoughts are associated with the United States both within it and globally. A positive issue that could come to bear on the peoples' minds is uniting to man a mission to Mars. This would take away from the negative attitudes coming out of the war on terrorism, failing economy, etc. It could make the United States seem like a superpower again, as it was when it got to the Moon.

The United States feels a pride in exploring. It is seen in the fairly recent history because the nation is relatively young. We expanded out from one ocean to the other—but often this is seen in an idealized and spectacular viewpoint when we have created much destruction and death along the way. As I see Bush, he seems to be a person who sees Americans as having an exploratory spirit. This is rooted in our history, but I am not sure how much it continues to be a defining attribute of the U.S. that makes it stand out from other nations. For example, China has now launched ships into space and other nations are forming space programs. We were first, but others are following.

Bush has goals for the United States that seem to be oversimplified. They have catchy slogans, such as "no child left behind," that appeal to the public, but do not fare as well as he would have us think. The No Child Left Behind Act has not become a dream come true. Its budget was cut, making it less effective. The Space Initiative has not been funded yet, but it wasn't even mentioned in the State of the Union address. It's extremely important if it comes to be true and therefore should be mentioned.

NASA seems to outwardly call it a great idea. This could be seen in talking to John Young. But when one looks behind the applause, I do not think NASA sees it as being such a good idea. Many other important programs would be cut by it including the space shuttle and International Space Station. But as James Garvin pointed out, NASA has begun planning other missions. I think that NASA secretly does not see it as a good idea, but is taking advantage of the time that it is thought of positively to set in motion certain missions that they think are a good idea, regardless of if we send manned missions to Mars.

When Kennedy first created NASA and gave it clear presidential direction, the American people were in the correct mindset to have the Apollo missions happen. Now we have seen humans land on other planetary bodies. I do not think we can have this be the only goal again to get to Mars. The novelty has worn off. We need a clear objective and motivation. This initiative does not seem to be the answer and I think it will fall into the background as this fact is realized.
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