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 (03/17/04)

The experience of viewing Mars in the CAVE added a new dimension to my understanding of Mars in more than one way! In my last paper I'd talked about using technology to the fullest, and this was a great example to illustrate how scientists are using the advanced methods at their disposal to optimize research. We first viewed Mars on the globe in the class-room in order to identify the places we wanted to see, and then in three-dimensions in the CAVE, and it was clear how that third dimension can really make a world of a difference. Everything seemed so much more real, so much easier to explore, visualize, and remember.

There were several things that I found interesting, both about the CAVE and about the discussion we had before and after we entered it. What we discussed a bit, and I would like to discuss further are the differences between manned and robotic missions.

First and foremost, I think it's really important to understand that there is still so much research to do on Earth about Mars. There is still so much for scientists to think about, to analyze, which can be done on the Earth itself. Understanding different life processes and how many different kinds of life there may be is just one example. Thus while we need to get to Mars and we need to study the rocks there, look for water there, we mustn't forget that there is a lot of work that can be done on Earth itself. Just like doing your home-work before class is a necessity, I think it's extremely important that scientists pace themselves so that they have the tools to understand the research they are doing, they are researching processes on Earth alongside their exploration of Mars, so that the results Spirit and Opportunity come up with aren't complete Greek to us.

Secondly, I think it's absolutely fascinating that the entire field of space research is still so contemporary, that there are ‘firsts' everyday, every second. Jay was telling us how a solar eclipse was viewed and photographed by Opportunity, and this is the first time such a thing has been photographed on Mars. This really made me wonder how many records are being created or broken every day as Spirit and Opportunity explore Mars. It's so exciting to be in this class at a time when new discoveries are being made each day. Every day is a day to be remembered because something new is being tested on Mars on that day.

Thirdly, I can now imagine the amount of pressure on each individual, and the magnitude of teamwork and trust that would probably be involved in space research. When we were in the CAVE, only one person at a time could have the control, and everyone else just had to hope that things were going to go well, and that we weren't going to fall into a crater, or land at an unsuitable spot. This was just virtual reality, but we were still pretty worried about our safety! When it's a real mission, everyone must have to really contribute their best, because from the scientists that do research to the astronauts that handle the shuttles, everyone handles huge amounts of responsibility. This must put a lot of pressure on each person, because a mistake on the part of one person could mess up the whole plan. Teamwork is also essential because unless all these highly intelligent people coordinate, they can't get anywhere. Lastly, since their lives are in the hands of their team-mates to a certain extent, they need to believe in and trust each other greatly.

I had to lead my group's discussion, and it was rewarding to see people actually engaging with each other once I had sparked them off with a few questions. We actually came up with some consensus. After weighing the risks with the benefits of manned space programs, we decided that they would be essential. It's not only frustrating but also limiting to wait for rovers for days while they move minimal distances, get covered with dust, and sometimes lose contact. However, we felt that the best solution would be to have people up there, along with Rovers so they have the technology at their disposal when testing rocks and other materials. With regard to the CAVE being effective, there was no doubt about the fact that it would be a wonderful resource to have, but some concern was voiced in terms of upgrading its detail and resolution. In a nutshell, people were open to sharing their views during discussion which is always conducive to generating ideas.

Hence Monday's class was an exciting, enlightening, and thought-provoking experience, one of the best classes we've had so far.
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