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 (04/14/04)

Dr. James Garvin joined us this Monday for a class where he added tremendous value. From the fact that he was dynamic, involved and excited to the way he knew the answers to all our questions at the tips of his fingers, he definitely made our class a learning experience for all of us. I loved the way we prepared questions beforehand and Dr. Garvin remarked that we had done our home-work!

One thing that we touched upon but I would like to discuss further is the composition of the crew that will eventually go to Mars. Will there be a geologist onboard, and some astrophysicists? How specific do the duties of people get, based on what they've studied before working at NASA? I always wonder if the geologists and astrophysicists all end up working on similar things once they're official scientists on a particular mission. Other than this, there are three basic points that I want to further explore in this paper.

I find it very stimulating the way Dr. Garvin says that he is “bullish” about some kind of life having once existed on Mars, even if it doesn't exist there today. After all, hope and belief in success are so important in a field like space exploration, where there is no proof till you find it for yourself, no answers till you search based on instinct and some educated guesses. He's even thought so far as to say that if there is life, scientists will have to consider what to do with the samples. They might just be dangerous to bring back to Earth, there might be contamination, and setting up a laboratory on Mars itself might be a distant reality. All this really fascinates me. Just the idea they have persevered till they found evidence of water on Meridiani Planum seems like if they keep at it they may make very important discoveries within the next decade. What is important is that they keep that spark of hope and persistence alive and believe that their efforts are worthwhile.

Secondly, I liked the analogy between a personal investment strategy and managing the government's funds to fit in space exploration. Just because we're spending funds on space exploration does not mean that we're leaving out other important aspects, or that we're not going to have any return. We can all add, subtract and multiply, yet we use calculators and try and make things faster. Why, someone may ask, should we spend all this money to save time when there are several others dying in other parts of the world. The answer is complex but logical. Because the human mind is curious, inventive, it wants to learn more and grasp new concepts and ideas, loves technology and speed. Space science and exploration is all about these things, which is why it has to continue side by side with feeding the starving millions. I wanted to add that everything makes sense once examined in the right context. Technically, if our ultimate objective is to make the world a better place, then we shouldn't spend money on anything, just enough to sustain ourselves, and save and donate to the needy. However, we don't do that. We spend money and enjoy our lives, because in one context, we have to make the most of our experience here. Similarly, spending money on space exploration may seem brutal to some, but when examined in the context of where it could take us, how much we could learn, it seems so essential.

Thirdly, I think it's so interesting that the protection of people on-board the spacecrafts will make up a majority of the money that will be spent on sending them to Mars. While browsing the NASA web-site, I discovered that two people are being sent to a space station in April for six month on an expedition called Expedition 9 to see how they react to being away from Earth for such a long time, since it could take up to 3 years to get to Mars. One of the people who will be on the expedition is quoted as saying:

“One of the experiments [deals with] the effect of radiation that we experience in space, what is the effect on the human cells and our basic fundamental genetic material? It sounds scary, but actually it's something that we're looking into to see the effects of long-duration space flight on people.” The article also mentions how “Another effect of long-duration flight on the human body is bone loss, a condition similar to osteoporosis. In addition to a rigorous exercise regimen, Expedition 9 will experiment with a medicine that might counteract the effects of bone loss.”

This is really striking because it means that as we're bracing ourselves to explore the unknown we're preparing for it thoroughly, we're taking precautions, and we're doing good science to make sure that we're as safe as possible.

What Dr. Garvin said about looking at countries which chose to explore and those who didn't, correlated with my last paper where I mentioned Christopher Columbus and how his voyage may have been troublesome then but was extremely futuristic and has made it possible for us to be here in the first place. The question of whether space exploration is a must is almost inconsequential now; it is the question of how we will prevent space exploration from taking over our lives that we need to address! For at the rate we're going, there is a wealth of knowledge out there, just waiting to be unleashed.
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