The Planetary Society
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Ellis Miner  –  physicist and planetary scientist
Click for larger image " My daydreams were not of riches or of exotic faraway places, but of fitting together into a private coherent picture of the universe the things I had learned. "
How were you motivated to choose your particular field?
  My earliest memories are associated with a curiosity about how things work. I remember being intrigued a few days before my fifth birthday in the process and topology of shoe tying. For my eighth birthday, my parents gave me an erector set that immediately and forever became my favorite pastime. As an eighth grader I was given the opportunity by my math teacher to learn algebra from a college text instead of participating in the more mundane math activities of my fellow students. But the coup d'etat was my first physics course as a junior in high school. Before that year with Mr. Richard Thomas was over I was totally and irrevocably committed to becoming a physicist. The only remaining questions were my specialty within physics and the nature of the job I would seek. The answers to those questions were not settled until my second year of graduate school (1962), when Astrophysics and the NASA Space Program became the objects of my affection.   Click for larger image
What can you share about your creative process?
    Learning the principles of "how things work" opens up an unlimited vista of applications. Each time my curiosity led me to an investigation of the underpinnings of a natural process or an "amazing" phenomenon, that investigation almost consumed me until I understood the hows and whys of it. Once understood, I found it fascinating to try to imagine the depth and breadth of applications of the underlying principle(s). My daydreams were not of riches or of exotic faraway places, but of fitting together into a private coherent picture of the universe the things I had learned. And since there has always been more to learn, that picture of the universe becomes more intricate with each passing year.

Although some have permitted such reveries and discoveries to lead to an inflated view of one's own worth and importance, to me this pursuit has led in just the opposite direction. I find myself continually awed, almost cowed, by the beauty and organization and purpose within the universe. Closely akin to the sophomoric philosophy of renown, the more I learn, the more I realize how very little I really know. I believe it is in such a state, almost that of being mentally vacuous, that inspiration and innovation flow most freely.

Socrates at one point was visited by an admirer who wanted to learn everything that Socrates knew. The story goes that the philosopher led the young man to the seashore, took him waist-deep into the surf, and then forcibly held his head under water. The young man began to struggle desperately to free himself, but the philosopher's steel grip held him firm. Eventually he stopped struggling, and Socrates pulled his head out of the water and led him back to shore. When he had sufficiently recovered, the young man inquired as to why Socrates had behaved in such a manner. Replied the philosopher, "When you come to want knowledge and understanding as much as you wanted air at that moment, you won't have to come to me to get it.

What ideas do you have for a future human community on Mars?
  Terraforming Mars has been the topic of numerous articles, many of them satisfyingly scholarly. Most of these have concentrated on building a Martian environment capable of supporting human life without the necessity of space suits, which basically take a small piece of Earth's environment to Mars. If life in a community on the surface of Mars is to be exclusively "biospheric" in nature, there is likely little advantage of a Martian community over a lunar community. Furthermore, because of its proximity and consequent accessibility, a lunar biosphere is far easier to establish. The predominant value of a Martian community over a lunar community is the possibility that life outside such a biosphere could eventually become a reality.

While most considerations of Martian (or lunar) communities have concentrated on provision for sustenance and protection from an otherwise physically hostile environment, I believe that a comparable effort will have to be made to accommodate mental and "spiritual" hunger. Little is to be gained from preserving the physical body if the mind and the emotions are starved in the process. We need to continually remind ourselves that it is not sufficient for the operation to be successful; the patient must also live!

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