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. 

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
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Under pressure at home, Donald Trump will struggle to deliver what Saudi Arabia wants

Above all, the Gulf states want stability. Can this beleaguered US president bring order?

There is a nervous energy around Riyadh. Fresh palm trees line the roads from the airport, punctuated by a wall of American flags and corporate slogans: “Together we prevail.” All the street lights are suddenly working.

The visit of any American president is always a lavish affair in Saudi Arabia, but there is an optimism to this visit that evaded the Obama years and even the recent visits of Theresa May and Angela Merkel.

Yet, there are two distinct parts to this trip – Trump’s first overseas engagement as president – that will determine its success. The first is relatively straightforward. Trump will sign huge defence contracts worth billions of dollars and offer trading opportunities that allow him to maintain his narrative of economic renewal for American businesses.

For the Saudis, too, these deals will fit into their ambitious project – known as Vision 2030 – to expand and diversify their economy away from its current dependence on oil revenues. Both parties are comfortable with this type of corporate and transactional government, enjoying the gaudy pomp and ceremony that comes with the signing of newly minted deals.

The more complicated aspects of the trip relate to its political dimensions. As the Middle East continues to convulse under the most significant turmoil to envelope it since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, what Gulf leaders desperately want is the re-establishment of order. At its core, that is what will define Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia – and the Saudis are optimistic.

Their buoyancy is borne of shared regional interests, not least curbing Iranian influence. Ever since the Arab uprisings in 2011, Tehran has asserted itself across the Levant by organising hundreds of proxies to fight on its behalf in Syria and Iraq. Closer to home, too, the Gulf states accuse Iran of fomenting unrest within Shia communities in Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces, in Bahrain, and in Yemen.

All of this has left the House of Saud feeling especially vulnerable. Having enjoyed an American security umbrella since the 1970s, Obama’s pursuit of the Iran deal left them feeling particularly exposed.

In part at least, this explains some of the Kingdom’s more frantic actions at home and abroad – including the execution of prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and the war in Yemen. Both are really about posturing to Iran: projecting power and demonstrating Saudi resolve.

Trump shares these concerns over Iranian influence, is prepared to look the other way on Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and is deeply opposed to Obama’s nuclear deal. Riyadh believes he will restore the status quo and is encouraged by the direction of travel.

Just last month Trump commissioned a review of the Iran deal while the US Treasury imposed sanctions on two Iranian officials. Saudi Arabia also welcomed Trump’s decision to launch cruise missiles against a Syrian military base last month after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

These measures have been largely tokenistic, but their broader impact has been very significant. The Saudis, and their Gulf partners more generally, feel greatly reassured. This is an American presence in the region that is aligned to their interests, that they know well and can manage.

That is why Gulf states have rushed to embrace the new president ever since he first entered the Oval Office. Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (colloquially known simply as “MBS”), already visited him in Washington earlier this year. The Emiratis and others followed shortly afterwards.

A spokesman for Mohammed bin Salman later described the meeting with Trump as an “historical turning point” in relations between the two countries. A White House readout of the meeting baldly stated: “The President and the deputy crown prince noted the importance of confronting Iran's destabilising regional activities.”

Now that Trump is visiting them, the Saudis are hoping to broker an even broader series of engagements between the current administration and the Islamic world. To that end, they are bringing 24 different Muslim leaders to Saudi Arabia for this visit.

This is where Trump’s visit is likely to be fraught because he plans to deliver a major speech about Islam during his visit – a move that has seemingly no positives associated with it.

There is a lot of interest (and bemusement) from ordinary Saudis about what Trump will actually say. Most are willing to look beyond his divisive campaign rhetoric – he did, after all, declare “I think Islam hates us” – and listen to him in Riyadh. But what can he say?

Either he will indulge his audience by describing Islam as a great civilisation, thereby angering much of his political base; or he will stick to the deeply hostile rhetoric of his campaign.

There is, of course, room for an informed, careful, and nuanced speech to be made on the topic, but these are not adjectives commonly associated with Donald Trump. Indeed, the pressure is on.

He will be on the road for nine days at a time when pressure is building over the sacking of the former FBI director James Comey and the ongoing investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

It is already being reported that Trump is not entirely enthusiastic about such a long overseas programme, but he is committed now. As with almost everything concerning his presidency, this extra pressure adds a wild air of unpredictability to what could happen.

Away from the lucrative deals and glad-handing, this will be the real standard by which to measure the success of Trump’s visit. For a relationship principally defined by its pursuit of stability, whether Trump can deliver what the Gulf really wants remains to be seen.

Shiraz Maher is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.

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