NASA astronaut Dr. James F. Reilly presented his perspective as a geologist and an astronaut in a lecture titled "Mars Exploration: Rovers to Human Geophysical Crews – A (Fun) Work in Progress" at Hamilton on May 1. Dr. Reilly discussed exploration of the Moon and on Mars; his lecture was complemented by an extensive power point presentation complete with photos and video of space exploration.
Dr. Reilly began his lecture by discussing the "big picture," focusing on "how we got where we are today." While presenting pictures of the universe from the Hubble spacecraft, Reilly gave an abbreviated history of the universe as humans know it. He also presented a timetable and graphs illustrating the most recent progress in terms of human transportation and spacecraft technology. "The three main questions NASA seeks to answer," Reilly explained, are: "How do we relate to the rest of the universe? Where did we come from? [and] Where are we going?"
Reilly emphasized the importance of the technological growth of the 20th century, as well as the relationship between "military and government" transportation and commercial transportation. According to Reilly, there is only a 40 to 50 year gap between government transportation and commercial transportation, suggesting that space aircrafts may become commercialized in the next 20 years.
He also explored human's "exploratory" nature and the rationale behind space exploration not only from an astronaut's perspective, but as a geologist. He described the Earth as a "very active" planet; "the surfaces have been reworked so many times that we cannot go back" in time to explore the planet's geological composition. As Mars and the Moon are relatively non-active planets and have much older sediments on the surface, there is "much to be learned" from exploring and studying these part of the universe.
Reilly then presented an in-depth look at the geological make up of both the Moon and Mars, discussing the presence of water, sulfates, and other organic compounds. He elaborated on the evidence of water on Mars, and then discussed the possibility of life ever having been on Mars or sustaining on the planet in the future. Reilly showed many photographs taken by the Mars rover of the planet. Although NASA has learned much from the Mars Rover, there is still much to learn. There has yet to be a human presence on the planet, Reilly explained, and until NASA establishes such a presence, many questions regarding Mars will be left unanswered.
He concluded his lecture by discussing the future of NASA, space exploration, and the future of the research and development that goes into making space exploration possible.
-- by Emily Lemanczyk '05
Dr. Reilly has been an astronaut with NASA since 1995. As a geologist and mission specialist, he has logged more than 500 hours in space on two Shuttle missions to the International Space Station.
A reception in the Dwight Lounge followed the lecture. Dr. Reilly's lecture was sponsored by the Geosciences department.