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 (04/08/04)

Monday's discussion was extremely varied. What I liked was that as the focus shifted from topic to topic different people expressed their related opinions and the conversation drifted smoothly from one subject to the next.

A topic we touched upon but I feel we could explore further is the fact that humans have been on this planet for only around 3 million years, which is relatively in the realm of geology and space science, not a very long time. This makes me wonder whether there was some clue on Earth billions of years ago, which indicated that intelligent life was going to inhabit it, and if we can look for a similar clue on Mars today. For after all, billions of years ago there was not a single human here and today there are over 6 billion of us! This radical change taking place in an apparently short period of time indicates that it is possible for such breakthroughs to occur on other planets too, and that even though we may not live to see it, with changes in the geology of Mars in the future, intelligent life there could clearly be a possibility. We have to look at planets keeping in mind that they all change, and change quickly, and drastically.

I wanted to comment on the music we heard, it was definitely upbeat. It added an atmosphere to the room that was positive, not angry like we might have expected. So maybe life in outer-space wasn't perceived so much as a threat back in the time the music was created, but more as a source of excitement. I also wanted to say a little about the Space Club's trip, it seems absolutely fascinating. What struck me were all the procedures they had to go through before their flight. My mind relates it to what Dr. Dave Marchant told us about the rigorous preparation before the trip to Antarctica, and draws the conclusion that practicing science can, to a certain degree, pose a potential risk. Sometimes to learn a little, we have to put our life on the line, and knowledge must mean a lot to the people involved if they're willing to do so. This check on the people entering science could almost be perceived as beneficial, for after all, disinterested people could not achieve optimum results. Other than the above 2 comments, there are three things we discussed at length that I want to reflect on in this paper.

Firstly, rating space exploration as a priority is difficult, especially when there are other concerns in the world today like starvation and environmental disasters. Exploration is expensive a human mission to Mars could cost 50 billion dollars. However, I think the fact that the U.S. spent 86 billion dollars on Iraq and only 11 billion dollars on education in the same year indicates that the priorities on which the budget is based may not coincide with what is best for the country at large in any case! I see space exploration as an investment, like a saving, something that has to go on alongside living our lives here. After all, it is always prudent to plan for the future, to save a little money every month, even if it means a little hardship. Space exploration is the future. It holds secrets we must uncover; it holds answers we've been looking for centuries. We must learn from the past and live in the present but we can't forget that is the future that we are planning for, and spending money on that is totally worth it. If Christopher Columbus hadn't left his home for discovery, we wouldn't even be here in the first place. It may have been expensive for him at the time, but definitely beneficial for humans several years later.

Secondly, I feel like it is essential to de-politicize space research as far as possible. A lot of people brought up that the objectives of the President's Initiative may be linked to political undercurrents, and I strongly feel like scientists must do all they can to break that link. We must explore because we want to learn, not because it's all a political game. While a lot of things like funding for sciences often depends on their political allegiances, (as we saw in the global warming controversy) I feel like it is absolutely essential for the people involved to be passionate about their work, and to be honest in their results, not biased because of who they are reporting to. This is important because scientists are in a way representing humankind when they make discoveries, and we trust ourselves to them completely.

Thirdly, we went over some of the reasons that we have explored in the past, like curiosity, competition, resources and fear of the unknown. The one I found interesting was power and return. If one in every 3 dollars that NASA spends really comes back to society in some way, then the return is high in the case of space exploration. I thought power was interesting simply because it makes me think that even in such a selfless activity (researching for life on other planets, so that humans as a whole will have more knowledge, and the world will benefit at large) the personality of the researcher can influence him to pursue the activity for power. He can make an activity which is about

helping science something which he uses to help himself. Whatever reason we explore for, we must not forget that we are doing it in the interest of the world and not for ourselves.

In conclusion, the fact that we discussed several different but related ideas Monday led to fruitful discussion and some insightful conclusions.
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