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 (02/18/04)

“Nothing the Vatican can do will stop NASA from doing anything.”

These are the words of Janet Cooper Nelson, Brown University Chaplain, who came to talk to us on Monday afternoon. While she meant them more in the sense that religion does not really change the point of view of scientists, they made me wonder just what does. They worry me to a certain extent because they make me wonder just whom science is willing to answer to today, and just whom science is accountable to. After all, there is always debate in democratic countries about what scientific research is appropriate, but is the voice of the people actually being heard? In my last essay I had talked about how we Must allocate funds to space research despite the starving millions because it is necessary to explore and ask the question ‘why' at all times. However I also believe that there needs to simultaneously be some control on NASA's scientists. We need to understand that while space exploration is necessary, there must be a continuous process of reviewing what NASA is doing, and making sure that the programs the country is funding are worth the effort.

On Monday, the class opened up more to each other, and people shared extremely interesting insights. Each person in that room was and will continue to be a great resource for our learning experience at Brown. An issue we touched upon, but could discuss more is the impact that discovering life on other planets will have on the different communities on Earth. Will it unite us, divide us, upset us, or excite us? I feel that three other aspects of our discussion need to be mentioned in this paper.

Firstly, the poem and music sheets reflect on the relation between creative expression, and innovative thinking. Artists are always willing to think laterally, to think ‘out of the box'. Hence music about Mars even at the beginning of the 20 th century does not seem as surprising to me because it comes from an artist, someone who wants to think of new, latent ideas.

Secondly, the issue of humans being special seems fairly controversial. While some were vocal about us not being special, others felt that no matter how we put it, we are supreme. My views that resulted from the discussion are that we definitely cannot count on being the most advanced creatures that exist today. After all, as someone pointed out, we might be equal to ants for some extra-terrestrial beings, too inconsequential to even attack! Another thought which I have mentally explored on several occasions is the concept of our entire world being virtual, of all of us being pawns in the hands of a programmer, which makes me feel small and not very powerful at all.

Thirdly, the concept of different religions advocating different views on God's forms, and on extra-terrestrial life, seems very natural to me. In fact different people within the same religion may have different views too. As far as I could find out, Hinduism believes God exists in the form of all Nature's elements, Christians and Muslims believe He is like us, Zorastrians believe He is in the form of fire, Jainism and Buddhism are much more careful in defining his form.

Similarly, they all have different views on the idea of space exploration. I Hinduism began as a way to initially propagate scientific views; it is a way of life more than a religion, in fact it encourages the study of the stars and relates them to events on Earth. Hence it is very open to life elsewhere. I discussed this with my Muslim friend, Sara, who said that the Koran talks of Allah being the God of all the ‘worlds' and hence she believes that it is very accepting of life elsewhere. Another friend of mine who practices Islam felt that it would be closed to space exploration. Christianity seems closed to space research, however Janet Cooper, who I believe certainly represents Christianity to a certain extent did not seem closed at all. Hence every religion is within itself open to interpretation too, and the views of several people practicing the same religion may be different.

In conclusion, I believe that understanding the point of view of the people, of religious groups, and celebrating their differences is essential in a world where diversity is in plenty. I hope that scientists somehow keep this in mind when they do research. Space exploration must result in happiness, not widespread revolution.



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