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 (05/05/04)

“There just isn't enough money for science.”

This was one of the quotes that I picked up in class on Monday. I'm not sure who said it, but it was definitely a comment worth noting down. When you think about it, how can there ever be enough money for science? People in science will always want to explore as much as they can. It's not only space science after all, it's true for all the sciences. And there just isn't that unlimited source of money being provided. On that note, it isn't surprising that the Congress hasn't completely agreed to Bush's Space Initiative. After all, it is a huge amount of money, it is the ideal, it is what the scientists need in order to explore to the maximum.

Monday's discussion began with feedback on John Young's conversation with us. For the first time, in several weeks, I felt like people had extremely strong views on what they had heard an astronaut talking to us say. Personally, I think that he is the kind of person who chooses to believe certain things, and then will not give in to other people very easily, even if he is in a minority. Since none of us can predict the future, it's hard to say who is right and who is wrong in this particular case. Whether sending people to Mars, en mass, can be a distant reality, or not? Perhaps if we account for the fact that as all planets change with time, like we have seen with planets in our solar system, it becomes possible to believe that Mars too, will be habitable one day.

For the Space Initiative presented by President Bush, I just want to mention that it would be interesting to think about what the reaction of the very same people in the room would have been, if the Clinton administration had presented the very same project. Just like science and politics is clearly merging on a national level, it's highly possible that even in our minds, our thinking is clouded by the person making the speech, in this case Bush, even before we open our minds to listen to the content. Being from another country, and not having lived through various American presidents, I feel like sometimes it is easier for me to catch political bias in the class. I also have two strategies to push for funds for the President's Initiative.

Firstly, the Congress's refutation to the demand for a 6% increase in NASA's budget is that NASA isn't a top priority, and so we can't afford to spend that much money on it when there's going to be less than a half percent increase in other sectors. What we need to make clear is that the amount of money you spend on something doesn't always reflect your priority, but also reflects how expensive that thing is, and even a limited amount of that thing could cost you a lot. Which means that you are not pushing it to the top of your priority list, but it still is expensive where it stands. For example, if I was to look at how much money I spend on water to drink, (which I get free from water coolers) and a winter jacket (which is always pretty expensive), it becomes clear that I spend more on my winter jacket, which I need less than water to drink. Yet, I need some sort of jacket so that I don't freeze, and even the cheapest one I could possibly get is going to cost me more than my entire year's supply of water.

This analogy may be confusing at first, but if we apply it to space science, it brings up an interesting conclusion. We need to explore, just because it is a basic human necessity. Hence, we need to ensure that we have the space shuttles, safety and training to do so. If this is expensive, maybe we could be careful, or go a little slow. However, we can't abandon it, because eventually it is an expensive thing, and we have to accept that, instead of comparing it with other things.

Secondly, we need to realize that we live in a world with several faces. If I look at even just India, this becomes so clear. Seventy percent of India lives in the villages, under the poverty line, sometimes without food and water, and even basic electricity is a distant dream. Yet, I spend a whole lot of money to go to Brown, every year. How does this make sense in the whole large scheme of things? It makes sense because my education is an investment, which could reap tremendous benefits. One day I could help those poor people with my education. I could devise a plan to improve India that might be impossible without the knowledge I obtain at Brown. Similarly, exploration is clearly an investment. For all you know, we might discover something on Mars that helps us have enough energy for thousands of years to come. We can't rule out that possibility. And all the money in the world is worth that little try. Because it's not like an angel is going to save us otherwise, in any case.

With that, I feel like my side to this issue is clear. I don't know whether I support Bush, or the Republicans or the Democrats, or if I even want to take a political side, but I do know that his space initiative is for exploring the unknown, and that is something that must be done.
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