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 (02/11/04)

I enjoyed today's discussion, and felt my mind opening further after the kind of discourse we had. I was a bit disturbed by the thought that even though scientists are working for society when they're involved in space-research, they are eventually human and do allow external factors to affect them. I feel like the framework within which these scientists are working, monetary, political or other, requires further thought. Our conversation culminated into three basic ideas.

The first one is the concept of us living in our own world, and thinking from the mental perspective of a citizen of Earth. How conducive is this to space exploration? Research in the 1970s has revealed that certain organisms can live in extreme climates, don't live on organic matter, and need water only once or twice a year to survive. This contradicts all earlier assumptions that scientists made, making us realize that life may exist on other planets but it may not be life as we know it to be. I feel like the way to deal with this is to encourage scientists to think laterally, and work on research. We need to be able to think beyond the framework of accepted notions if we really want to make breakthroughs in a field like space research which is so out of the ordinary.

This leads us to the next thought, just because we need to think beyond the horizons we're familiar with does not mean we don't examine everything that is within our reach. Making analogies between earth and mars, between the requirements for life here and there definitely can't hurt. The work in places like Antarctica must go on so that scientists can at least use the means at their disposal to make further discoveries. As someone pointed out in class, we will always think within our time, and laugh as we look back at the short-sightedness of scientists in times before us, but this does not mean that we don't continue to do our best in the present. Thirdly, what is very interesting is how Professor Head repeatedly reiterated that we currently know Nothing. We're just a little ahead of where we first were several centuries ago. If this is the case, then how useful is space exploration? If the process is so slow, is it more worth our while to solve problems on Earth first, before spending millions of dollars on space missions? It is ironic that just after today's lecture I heard President Ruth Simmons talk about the huge amount of funds required for basic education for people from less privileged backgrounds. Would the money be better spent on alleviating poverty, illiteracy and other social problems? To answer the last question, no. This is my personal opinion, and I stand by it because I feel that the exploration of the unknown and asking the question ‘why' is absolutely essential. It's hard to pinpoint just why space exploration is ‘beneficial' but even if it is just to keep our interest in what is yet to be discovered alive, it is worth it. After all, if there are Martians, for all we know they're planning to annihilate all Earthlings way before the depletion of oil reserves, extreme poverty or nuclear explosions kill us all! In conclusion I really liked what Michael Putnam said, “Sometimes it's the writer as much as the scientist who imagines things, makes scientific breakthroughs.” I think this is because writers aren't afraid to think ‘out of the box', which is extremely necessary for research on other planets.


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