Don’t like it? Well, get used to it. Photo: Nasa
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People, please don’t go to Mars - you’ll die

The Red Planet is bad for humans in all kinds of ways, and being first there may be little consolation if you die before you even reach the surface.

A hundred people - “The Mars 100” - have been chosen by Mars One as the longlist in their selection process for a one-way trip to Mars. The mission aims to establish permanent human life on Mars by 2025, and the competitive open application process (asking “who wants to kill themselves on another planet and have Earthlings watch you do so in amusement on reality television”?) has had the interest of more than 200,000 applicants from at least 140 countries. All 100 Martian martyrs are happy to take the next leap for mankind, or die trying - or so they think.

Applicants have been awarded points and levels depending on how much money they "donated" to Mars One, and filtering the list reveals the highest pointer and leveller are Christian O Knudsen and Steve Schild respectively. Of all of the 100 candidates, a total of 40 finalists will be chosen to train for the mission. For the rest of us who are content with where we already live - or who are annoyed at missing out - here are just some of the reasons why Mars isn’t good for humans:

The atmosphere isn’t breathable
Breathe in Mars' air and you’ll suffocate and die in about three minutes. Mars doesn’t have much of an atmosphere; it’s about 100 times thinner than Earth’s in fact, so you’d struggle to breathe at all. Its atmospheric pressure is so below the limit for human survival that your saliva and the interior of your lungs would boil. If you do get a chance to breathe it’ll be predominately carbon dioxide, which, at such a low pressure, wouldn’t do the damage it could. Unless you have an indestructible spacesuit and an unlimited supply to oxygen (which, by the way, Mars has virtually none of) you’re as good as dead.

It’s cold - really, really cold
We assume Mars isn’t cold because we only see ice at the poles, but that’s because it’s dry and thin. Experiencing  Antarctica would be like a nice summer’s day out compared to Mars. 

Mars’ thin atmosphere means it’s unable to retain heat energy. To add insult into injury, it’s farther from the sun than Earth, meaning its temperature can reach a low of -153oC near the poles and, at best, at high of 20oC during the summer near the equator. The temperature can change drastically within one week, making it a dangerous playground for fragile, delicate creatures such as humans. Its temperature variations can also often result in global dust storms lasting for weeks, which can block as much as 99 per cent of sunlight, clogging electronics and interfering with solar-powered equipment. If that equipment is used to grow or cook food, starving to death is highly likely.

Deadly UV radiation
Due to the virtually non-existent atmosphere, Mars has in high levels of UV radiation, limiting the time spent on the surface without protection - otherwise the chances of you getting skin cancer will rise. Gold spacesuits and SPF 9000 anyone?

Low gravity
Mars’ gravity is much lower than Earth’s - about 62 per cent lower. So, for a person whose mass is 100kg on Earth, they’ll feel as if they weigh a mere 38 kg when on Mars.

Nobody knows whether humans could remain healthy long term in Martian gravity, but we know from other space missions that prolonged time in zero gravity can lead to bone loss at a rate of about 1 per cent per month, muscle atrophy at a rate of about 5 per cent per week and blood loss at a rate of 22 per cent in just a few days (a possible major contributing factor to heart atrophy). The record for the longest time spent in space goes to Valeri Polyakov, who spent almost 438 days on the Russian space station Mir in 1994 and '95. Living in zero gravity for so long meant he suffered from muscle and bone loss on his return to Earth. 

Long-term exposure to low gravity can also lead to serious vision problems. Unless you want to spend all day in a tank harnessed to a treadmill - meaning no time for the main objective of Martian exploration - you’re likely to suffer physical damage beyond repair after a relatively short amount of time.

You’d get bored to death of the scenery
The landscape of Mars wouldn’t hold the attention of human eyes for too long. Some photos of Mars might seem amazing, but these have been digitally enhanced with white balance so geologists can analyse the rock types. The naked human eye will interpret the sky and land as dull homogenous reddish-grey or brown.

How would you even get there?
As advanced as we think we are, humans are not yet capable of producing the type of technology needed to successfully land humans on Mars. “Mars is pretty far away," Nasa's director of the International Space Station, Sam Scimemi, said during a conference. "It's six orders of magnitude further than the space station. We would need to develop new ways to live away from the Earth and that's never been done before. Ever."

Travelling to Mars poses issues such as fuel shortages, designing (within our current capabilities) the right spacecraft to operate such as mission and how on (or off) Earth we’re able to keep astronauts alive - and this is after overcoming the inherent risks involved in launching any spacecraft, let alone a human-carrying one, as we all well know. There's little room for error.

In 2013, MIT researchers developed a detailed settlement-analysis tool to assess the feasibility of the Mars One mission. Their study, published last year, contained an estimate for how long they thought this mission would go before the first fatality. The answer: 68 days.

So is this mission technically and financially feasible at all? Not very, or at least not yet - the farthest any human has travelled from Earth is 400,000 km, and that was sort of by accident (the Apollo 13 accident). Mars’ average distance from Earth is about 225 million km away - and given the state of current space technology (which won’t magically improve overnight even if enough money is thrown at it), the candidates are unlikely to last 68 seconds on Mars, let alone 68 days, even if they even get there.

Tosin Thompson writes about science and was the New Statesman's 2015 Wellcome Trust Scholar. 

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We can't rush to war in Syria without a plan for peace

A recent visit to Iraq has left me doubtful that the Prime Minister's plan can suceed, says Liam Byrne.

As shock of the Paris lifts and the fightback starts, all eyes are now the prime minister and, at last, the 'full spectrum response' we were promised months ago.

But what's needed now is not just another plan to bomb the ground -  but a plan to hold the ground we win. Four days in Northern Iraq has made me deeply sceptical about air strikes alone. It's convinced me that after the mistakes of Iraq and Libya, we cannot have yet another effort to win the battle and lose the war. Without politics and aid, projectiles and air-raids will fail. It's as simple as that.

After the horror of Paris it's easy to ignore that in Iraq and Syria, Isil is now in retreat. That's why these animals are lashing out with such barbarism abroad. In the ground war, Kurdistan's fighters in particular, known as the Peshmerga - or 'those who face death' -  have now shattered the myth of Isil's invincibility.

A fortnight ago, I travelled through Northern Iraq with a group of MP's arriving on the day the key town of Sinjar was stormed, cutting the umbilical cord - route 47 - between Isil's spiritual home of Mosul in Iraq and Isil HQ in Raqqa. And on the frontline in Kirkuk in north west Iraq, two miles from Isil territory, Commander Wasta Rasul briefed us on a similar success.

On the great earthwork defences here on the middle of a vast brown plain with the flares of the oil pumps on the horizon, you can see through binoculars, Isil's black flags. It was here, with RAF support, that Isil was driven out of the key oil-fields last summer. That's why air cover can work. And despite their best efforts - including a suicide attack with three Humvees loaded with explosives - Isil's fight back failed. Along a 1,000 km battle-front, Isil is now in retreat and their capitals aren't far from chaos.

But, here's the first challenge. The military advance is now at risk from economic collapse. Every political leader I met in Iraq was blunt: Kurdistan's economy is in crisis. Some 70% of workers are on the public payroll. Electricity is free. Fuel is subsidised. In other words, the Government's bills are big.

But taxes are non-existent. The banks don't work. Inward investment is ensnared in red tape. And when the oil price collapsed last year, the Government's budget fell through the floor.

Now, in a bust up with Baghdad, cash has been slashed to Kurdistan, just as a wave of 250,000 refugees arrived, along with over a million internally displaced people fleeing Da'esh and Shiite militias in the south. Nearly 6,000 development projects are stalled and people - including the Peshmerga - haven't been paid for months.

We have brave allies in the fight against Isil - but bravery doesn't buy them bullets. As we gear up the battle against Isil, it's now vital we help boost the Kurd's economic strength - or their sinews of war will weaken. There's an old Kurdish saying; 'the mountains are our only friends'. It's an expression born of years of let-down. In the fight against Da'esh, it's a mistake we can't afford to repeat today.

Second, everyone I met in Iraq was clear that unless the Sunni community can find alternative leadership to Isil then any ground we win may soon be lost, if not to Isil, then “Isil II”. Let's remember Isil didn't just 'emerge'. It grew from a tradition of political Islam decades old and mutated like a Frankenstein monster first by Al-Qaeda, then Al-Qaeda in Iraq, then the Al-Nusra front and now Isil.

Crucial to this warped perversion has been the total breakdown of trust between Iraq's Sunni residents - and the Shi'ite dominated government in Baghdad. In Mosul, for instance, when the Iraqi security forces left, they were stoned in their Humvees by local residents who felt completely humiliated. In refugee camps, it's not hard to find people who didn't flee Da'esh but Shi'ite militia groups.

Now, tracking surveys in Mosul report tension is rising. The Isil regime is sickening people with an obsessive micro-management of the way everyone lives and prays - down to how men must style their beards - with brutal punishment for anyone stepping out of line. Mobile phone coverage is cut. Food prices are rising. Electricity supplies are sporadic. Residents are getting restless. But, the challenge of gaining - and then holding a city of 3 million people will quite simply prove impossible without alternative Sunni leaders: but who are they? Where will they come from? The truth is peace will take politics.

There's one final piece of the puzzle, the PM needs to reflect on. And that's how we project a new unity of purpose. We desperately need to make the case that our cause is for both western and Islamic freedom.

I serve the biggest Muslim community in Britain - and amongst my constituents, especially young people, there's a profound sense that the conduct of this debate is making them feel like the enemy within. Yet my constituents hate Isil's violence as much as anyone else.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, I heard first-hand the extraordinary unity of purpose to destroy Isil with total clarity: “Your fight,” said the Kurdistan prime minister to us “is our fight.” In the refugee camps at Ashti and Bakhara, you can see why. Over a million people have been displaced in Kurdistan - grandparents, parents, children - fleeing to save their children - and losing everything on the way. “Da'esh,” said one very senior Kurdistan official 'aren't fighting to live. They're fighting to die. They're not battling a country or a system. They're battling humanity".

Here in Europe, we are hardwired to the fortunes of Central Asia, by trade, energy needs, investment and immigration. It's a vast region home to the seminal struggles of Israel/Palestine, Sunni/Shia and India/ Pakistan. Yet it's a land with which we share traditions of Abrahamic prophets, Greek philosophy and Arabic science. We need both victory and security. So surely we can't try once again to win a war without a plan for winning a peace. It's time for the prime minister to produce one.

Liam Byrne is Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, cofounder of the UK-China Young Leaders Roundtable and author of Turning to Face the East: How Britain Prospers in the Asian Century.