Moving to Mars? Better Pack a Shovel.

Living on Mars is an essential back-up plan for humanity, says author Stephen Petranek. Here's how he thinks we can survive the radiation.

Stephen Petranek: Radiation on Mars is a significant problem; both solar radiation and cosmic rays are both a problem. We don’t have a dense atmosphere on Mars. It’s only about 1/100th the density of the atmosphere on Earth. And therefore there are not a lot of particles in the air for solar rays coming from the sun to collide with and be deflected as there are on Earth. Mars also doesn’t have a Van Allen belt like we have, which deflects a lot of solar radiation. And it does not have a molten core like we have which creates a magnetosphere around the Earth, which also deflects a great deal of radiation.

So Mars is a very radiated place in many ways. And people will need very, very thick walls on their buildings if they build above the surface to stop solar radiation and to hinder most of the cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are of mysterious origin. We don’t actually know where they come from, but they are little bits of atoms that are traveling at high speed. And these particles can penetrate 10 feet of steel. We are exposed to them on Earth. Pilots who fly transcontinental airline routes are actually exposed to quite a bit of cosmic radiation. Cosmic radiation, all radiation, undoubtedly in the long run causes cancer in human beings. One of the trade-offs, you might say, of going to Mars is that you are going to get more radiation than you get on Earth. Both on the trip out there and when you get to Mars. One of the defenses we will have against radiation on Mars is a spacesuit. But on Mars, we’re not going to wear spacesuits that look like these things in the movie Gravity that are kind of like deep-sea diving bags and this huge bubble on top of your head and they’re incredibly awkward and difficult to move around in and you’re kind of encapsulated.

A woman at MIT who has actually been nominated to be the number two person at NASA, a woman named Dava Newman has developed a spacesuit that looks more like something you would wear as an exercise clothing in a gym. It’s very tight-fitting, kind of spandexy-like. It has metallic threads in it and it’s fabulous at protecting you from radiation at least in a short period of time. It also does another interesting thing, which is because the atmosphere on Mars is so thin, you would not explode and you would not have nitrogen narcosis like you do with the bends. But you can’t survive long on Mars because just walking outside, if we forget about the radiation problem, because there’s not enough pressure on your skin. On Earth, we have 15 pounds, 14.7 pounds of atmosphere piled up above us that presses on our skin at all times. And as human beings over a long period of time, we have evolved in our bodies to be pushing back. So underneath our skin, essentially, our bodies are pushing out at all times to compensate for that 15 pounds of atmospheric pressure. Now you don’t need 15 pounds of atmospheric pressure pushing on you to kind of keep you from turning into a balloon. But you do need about five or six pounds. And a sort of spandexy kind of spacesuit will create enough pressure against your skin so that that problem is solved. So we have to do everything we can to protect people from radiation on Mars. And that probably means initially living underground. Eventually we will live above ground. It’s not that dissimilar from Antarctica. You can’t go outdoors in Antarctica in the winter. But people survive just fine in Antarctica. There’s — but radiation is a big bugaboo.

Living on Mars is an essential back-up plan for humanity, says author Stephen Petranek. One of the main problems with this fact is that a thinner atmosphere ensures that the surface of Mars gets pelted with dangerous levels of radiation day after day.

"Radiation on Mars is a significant problem," says Petranek. But one MIT scientist believes she's found the solution: a special spacesuit to replace the bulky suits of the past. Petranek describes it — plus other strategies for not dying a painful death on Mars — in this video.


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Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.

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Mind & Brain
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  • Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
  • Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.