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 (03/03/04)

The discussion with the representatives of the former Soviet Republic was very enlightening. It re-emphasized that all the articles we've been reading are fairly accurate, because the account of Soviet failure we heard in class did lead directly from the article we read on the Soviet manned lunar program.

The discussion made clear to me that while initially, Soviet scientists were motivated by a lust for knowledge; eventually it was all one big, complex competition. This was highlighted by the fact that initially, the Soviets had no idea of the enormity of their space research and plans. When the world reacted to their innovation, it was surprising for them; they were unaware that their research was so advanced or important. However, once America began competing with them, all they wanted was to be up there on the moon, and first. Somehow reaching the moon was equated with being superior in general, with proving their worth. Ironically, once there was so much pressure on the scientists there, they weren't as competent anymore, making America the winner of the space-race of the 1960s.

Further, internal competition only exacerbated the situation in the Soviet. This really made me think. After all, a lot of people are of the opinion that competition between people makes each person perform better, and yields better results. However it is evident that for an entire group to be successful, internal competition is only counter-productive. I strongly believe that people working for a group-objective as opposed to their personal gain will make a team succeed.

What struck me as interesting was the political impact on space-research. The article we read was only reiterated in my mind when Sergei Krushchev stressed how the waxing and waning of investment in space missions corresponded to the interest expressed by the politicians in power. His father was very excited by space in general and hence encouraged funding of related projects. Currently, Bush is interested in exploring Mars and hence we are doing so.

Sergei made a comment about how it's “all about the money” today. He claimed that the country with more funds was bound to be more technically and scientifically advanced. I believe that this is debatable, after all nowhere in the article we read about the Soviet failure was the lack of funds cited as a primary cause. Somehow cooperation between scientists in an environment conducive to innovation seems as much of a concern to me. Scientists may have all the money in the world but if they aren't able to reach a consensus they will go nowhere. Money is definitely important, but not the sole factor that contributes to scientific success.

Another matter which Krushchev's son explored was the power of personality in leadership. He explained how Korelov was a great leader while Chelomei was first a scientist, then a designer and last a leader. According to Sergei, this greatly contributed to Chelomei's failure. I believe that this is an extremely valid point. It leads to the question, should scientists be managers in today's world, or just scientists? The discussion made me conclude that it would be beneficial for organizations to separate people with technical skills from those with managerial skills. Unless a scientist is blessed with both kinds of skills, he shouldn't be required to manage people, but just conceptualize and theorize.

Dr. Basilevsky brought up how he wasn't initially interested in space science at all, while Professor Head talked about how he was extremely fascinated by it, and used to listen to the radio from the time he was really young. Sergei talked about how the people of the Soviet would have been opposed to a son of the prime minister getting involved in politics too, and how he entered the field of space science pretty much at random. All this somehow really interests me. I want to learn what motivates people to enter the field of space-science. Is it monetary or intellectual motivation? This would have implications on the kind of people we have in this community, would reflect if they are dedicated, involved and passionate. It would help us understand what kinds of people we need to bring into this community in order to make it successful.

In conclusion, I believe that hearing the Soviet's side of the story was a great idea. It made the entire discussion real, lively and engaging and balanced.
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