Shveta Raina (03/10/04)
Monday's discussion and dinner were extremely productive. We not only learned a lot about space-science, but also got to know each other better, and to understand some interesting aspects of Russian culture. I enjoyed interacting with everyone, and learning facts and opinions on a first-hand basis from several highly influential and involved people. My thoughts crystallize into four basic points of analysis.
What struck me to be of primary importance after our discussion is that in a field like space-science, we have to be prepared to have some of our most basic assumptions challenged at all times. Every mission, every discovery will bring a whole new view to the ongoing research, and invalidate a lot of earlier beliefs. For example with Mars, the perceptions of canals and changing vegetation patterns were replaced by visions of a lifeless, moon-like landscape with the Mariner 4, 6 and 7 missions, only to be further changed by the Mariner 9 mission, which hinted at possible life once more. We have to be able to understand that processes similar to those on Earth may occur, but occur differently on other planets. Volcanism does occur on Mars, but because of the lack of tectonic activity, it creates results on a much larger scale. This is an example of something that is a change to our current perceptions and understandings because of a difference in the conditions involved.
Secondly, we need to look for water on Mars everywhere we possibly can, in every possible way. Discoveries by Opportunity confirm that water did definitely exist on Mars at some point, even though it may not have existed on the surface. This concept of subterranean water is very interesting to me. Since we are currently able to track such material, we will hopefully soon know if it exists. It is very exciting to live at a time when discoveries such as these are being made because they will shape the future for space research and science for years to come. If water does exist on Mars today, underneath several layers of the surface, it is not beyond imagination that organisms that don't need sunlight exist within this water.
Thirdly, I believe that there are several ways to learn new things and several kinds of discoveries, and scientists should be open to each of them. We can learn from other planets, as Professor Head pointed out, we can learn a lot about the first half of our solar system's history from the Moon, Mercury and Mars. Interestingly, some meteorites found on Earth in the 1980s appear to be of Martian origin, and can teach us a lot about conditions there. Looking back at the formative years of Earth, asking where we came from and why can also give us deeper insights and help us draw analogies with possible life on Mars. Examining factors such as obliquity variations, the lack of a moon like ours near Mars, and the impact of collisions between bodies on them (such as the one that caused the Earth's moon to come into existence) can also give us fresh insights. Understanding causes of the formation of landforms, (the formation of the Valles Marineris on Mars seems to be rooted in the presence of water), could also lead to answers to unanswered questions. Every possible source of information and ideas must be explored to the fullest.
Lastly, I'm a huge fan of technology, and using advanced means at our disposal to make discoveries. The quality and accuracy of discoveries made by us has improved drastically as we've come ahead of a time where there were no space-craft missions, remote sensing operations or powerful telescopes. If this requires different parts of the world to come together, so be it. For after all, if we hone our technical skills as we take the plunge into discovery, our results will definitely be more valuable.
Thus challenging our assumptions, pursuing water as much as we can, being open to the several ways in which we can learn new things, and using technology are the ideas that our discussion inspired me to write about.
The dinner was absolutely wonderful. I was fortunate to have two extremely interesting conversations. The first was with Sergei Khrushchev's wife. She inspired me because she explained to me that even though she was a woman who didn't live during a very easy time in Russia, she is highly educated and worked for a significant amount of time there. I could draw an analogy between the competitive system of education she talked about in Russia, with a similar system in India. The second was a long chat with Dr. Basilevsky. He described his entire life, right from the beginning when he wanted to be a ship-builder, till today, when he thoroughly enjoys researching planetary geology. He talked about how his determination led him to be fully involved with space missions. He gave me a detailed description of how they chose paths on the moon they needed to take in order to avoid the ‘dog-rocks' and reach the outcrops. He said they identified ‘grabins' which would allow them the kind of rocks they were looking for, since such rocks wouldn't be covered by dust. He was eager to explain, and even drew me a little diagram! The entire conversation was extremely engaging.
All in all, Monday was an eventful day, and the analysis and discussion was rewarding and enlightening.