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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Shveta Raina (04/28/04)

From the time that Professor Head mentioned, right at the beginning of the class that we were getting the opportunity to speak to “the nation's best”, someone who has “dedicated his life to the service” and who keeps “national goals and objectives” in mind, I couldn't wait to speak to John Young. Not only because I wanted to talk to one of the smartest people in space science today, someone still actively involved in NASA, or someone who has walked on the moon, but primarily because I wanted to hear someone speak who was doing this for science, for humankind, and not for himself. I wanted to hear the dedication that Professor Head mentioned, and I did.

As for our discussion, the first thing that I want to highlight is that a very real viewpoint was presented to us this Monday. It wasn't practiced, planned answers that were provided with, but the hard-hitting truth. John Young clearly does not believe that the President's Initiative as it stands can be put into action without more funding, and he made no effort to hide this view. I think this is excellent because all the people who have spoken to us so far have dealt with the lack of money to fulfill a Mars mission, but haven't been as clear cut. There is no way you can get what you want, if you do not ask straight out. And NASA won't get the money it requires if it is too discreet about it, simply because people will continue to pretend that they will somehow be able to manage on their current supply. I loved the way Young put it – “You can't get there for that kind of money.” It is crystal clear to him that more funding is needed, and that clarity is definitely the first step to getting the funding they need.

Secondly, the extremely clear reason to go to Mars presented by him contradicts earlier speakers like Scott, who seemed undecided about the fundamental motive behind sending humans to Mars. In other words the pressing urgency to find another home for us humans in the likelihood of a disaster on Earth was a new perspective put forth to us. We discussed the risk from certain volcanoes and the drying out of fossil fuels, which could easily force the extinction of humans. To further analyze the contradiction, Scott said that “We're all going to live on the Earth, that's what we need to take care of. This is our home.” Whereas Young emphasized, “Our grandchildren will [probably] be living and working on the moon and Mars, and that will be neat.”

This apparent dissimilarity in the thinking of two moon-returned, NASA-involved, highly educated astronauts makes me glad that we are talking to so many different people in this class, listening to different ideas, sometimes linking them, realizing that people say the same thing in different ways, and sometimes classifying them as people who have opposing views for the long-term, but similar short-term objectives, a little like Scott and Young.

I personally believe that it's a long shot to think that we're going to be living on Mars before a much extended period of time. Like someone in class mentioned, we're probably going to be happier finding those few and far between places on Earth, maybe underground even, where we could live before we all migrate to another planet. We may not have enough energy left on the Earth at some point, but who knows if we will even have air to breathe on Mars! Getting the entire human race off the Earth requires infrastructure and funding that's so humungous, it's close to impossible to conceive. It's going to take us 30 years at least, to get only one team on its way. This does not mean that we don't need to explore, just that we have to work on saving the Earth at the same time because in my mind there are huge chances of us living here for a long time to come.

Third, I want to come back to what I began with – the clear insight that we were given into an astronaut's mind. Young was so forthright and blunt with us, it was great! Some of his comments, like how Kerry will continue with Bush's initiative “if he's educated,” and how jumping off the ground on the moon with lessened gravity was “pretty nice,” made me feel like we were talking to a real person and not just someone humoring a few interested kids. It becomes so much easier to appreciate where someone is coming from and what he is saying when it is what he really means.

There is clearly no beating around the bush for Young, and that has obviously got him where he is. Our class was unique this Monday, a class that I will remember, if only because of his personality, experience, and extremely distinct views.
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