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 (03/17/04)

The CAVE was remarkable. I would never have thought that the few satellites we have orbiting Mars could have mapped Mars out so completely. "Flying over" Mars was amazing. If felt like we were actually there, skimming over the surface to see the sites. I would hope the much more detailed data from the rovers will soon be incorporated into the CAVE though. The CAVE is a great way to see the various features of Mars and how they are all connected, but detailed information, such as the shape and positions of the surface rocks, cannot be seen. This is what is being explored by the rovers and this information helps to determine what smaller-scale events have occurred on Mars.

Humans on the surface would make measurements of the geology of the surface much easier and more informative. So far we have not been able to test and date any surface material except that from meteorites that have landed on Earth, and because of this contaminated by it. Humans on Mars would be able to perform more experiments and faster. It would also be quicker for them to navigate on the surface with a rover operated by a person on board—there would be no time delay in commands and movements by the rover.

Rovers are of course cheaper and safer and more practical at this time however. If humans were involved, safety would be a huge concern. Right now we do not have any rover that are returning to Mars, let along people. More developments need to be made for sending humans to Mars to be feasible. The more data we collect from the rovers, however, the more safe and effective human missions will be.

There are many questions about Mars: What was the planet like a couple billion years ago? What made it change? Did it ever support life? What can the history of Mars tell us about the history and/or future of our own planet? Looking at stratigraphic layers can help us to understand Mars's past. How these layers change will tell us what happened to it and from there we can infer how it happened. The question of life will also be answered by looking at the geology: through actual fossils or a record of the effects life would have on a planet. Certain systems may have gone out of equilibrium and then out of control to cause Mars to now be a frozen planet. Knowing what may have triggered this will help us to understand what could happen to our planet. Since Mars does not have plate tectonics, looking at its geology also tells us about our solar system's (and Earth's) past. All of these answers can hopefully be found in the geologic record of Mars. This is difficult to explore, though, with rovers that can only "rat" a rock or look at randomly exposed sedimentary layers that cannot even be dated. Humans on Mars would be able to do much more in exposing and dating these rocks.

In the end, more research and exploration needs to be done on Mars. There are so many questions about Mars, Earth, and the origin of our solar system and such that can be at least partially answered by exploring other planets, the nearest and most promising being Mars.





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