Lecture on Space Exploration by World Expert
|Charles Elachi (right) with Dean George
He has an asteroid named after him, received the NASA Distinguished Service
Medal and the American Aeronautical Space Award, and was elected in 1992
to the National Academy of Engineering. He is no other than the renowned
space expert, Charles Elachi, who lectured to the AUB community on May
24 in West Hall. His talk was entitled "Excitement and Challenges
of Space Exploration."
Born and raised in Lebanon's Beqa'a Valley, Elachi is the holder of various
degrees in physics, engineering, and geology, with a PhD in electrical
sciences from the California Institute of Technology. During the past
thirty years as director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech,
he played the lead role in developing the field of spaceborne imaging
radar. He has produced more than 230 publications in the field of space
and planetary exploration.
According to Elachi, advances in space exploration today are mind-boggling;
right now there are 18 space crafts and five instruments floating across
the solar system. What is also mind-boggling, he said, is that there is
life only on planet Earth. Displaying images of Mars and Earth, he showed
that they are dramatically different, but share many similar features.
Some of the similarities: they both have polar caps; Mars also has a Grand
Canyon, twice as deep as the one in Colorado; volcanic activity is also
prevalent on Mars, with a volcano twice the size of Everest. There are
also drainage channels on Mars, which means that water might have once
existed in liquid form. This raises the question: did life once exist
Elachi also showed a video, titled "Mars Exploration Rovers Landing,"
which exhibited simulations of Rovers that had been released onto the
surface of Mars in 2003. (Rovers are machines/robots programmed and operated
from Earth to examine and analyze rock composition). A second video, "Tribulations
of Testing," featured testing the Rover landing system, in which
Rover landings were simulated in vacuum chambers.
According to Dr. Elachi, signals sent by the Rovers from Mars take ten
minutes to reach Earth. Some of the information received gave evidence
of sedimentary rock formation, and chemical analysis showed that most
of the rocks had water crystals embedded in them. Scientists concluded
that water must have existed on Mars three to four billion years ago.
Elachi also reported on NASA's plans to launch two future Mars spacecraft
missions: the Phoenix Polar Lander in 2007 and the Mars Science Laboratory
Rover in 2009.
Another exciting feature of the lecture dealt with Titan, the moon of
Saturn, which Elachi explained is the only satellite in the solar system
with an atmosphere of the same density as that of Earth. But it is very
cold, he said, with a temperature of absolute zero. Interestingly, evidence
shows that it rains on Titan and that there are rivers and geysers under
the surface, but the liquid is not water; instead, it is oil.
Asked whether he believed in God, Dr. Elachi replied that science and
God are separate, adding that he tries to separate science fiction from
science fact. Until there is proof, he remains skeptical about flying