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Ready for Mars

April 5, 2030 - The international collaboration for the first manned mission to Mars presented today the final plans for the trip next year. Take off will be January 24 and after about five months in space they will land on Martian soil on June 28. The countdown for one of the greatest adventures ever has started.

There were 16 astronauts in the team when preparations for the trip commenced four years ago. Last year seven of them left and the five that was announced to make the final crew are still accompanied by four people in the backup team.

A significant adjustment that they are preparing for is that the day on Mars is 40 minutes longer than on Earth. It might not sound that much, but after only nine days your time is off six hours compared to Earth time. The long trip there without any knowledge of day or night also complicates the perception of time, which is important for the crew to stay alert.

When they land they will have supply, equipment and their return vehicle waiting for them, which was sent there during the previous launching window about 18 months ago. That will hopefully keep them occupied during the 600 days that they have to stay on Mars before they can return home to earth, due to the position of the planets.

Even though the mission is one of the greatest mankind has taken on, it is not in comparison with the brave adventurers exploring the earth during the past milleniums not knowing what to find. This time we at least have nice brochures with full color photos of where we are heading. The biggest challenge is if the human body and mind are adjustable for interplanetary missions.

The main issue to solve for a manned mission to Mars has been the radiation that the vehicle and crew will be exposed to during the trip. The radiation that affect the astronauts the most will be the solar energetic particles from the activity of the sun, and the galactic cosmic rays from outside our solar system. The fact that the 11-year solar activity cycle reaches a peak during the trip, increasing the occurrence of solar energetic particles, makes the task even more difficult.

However, the successful development of shield material with a high rate of absorbing particle radiation has made it possible. Even though a lot of extensive testing has been made it is hard to know exactly how the human body will react to the exposure of radiation during such a long time in zero gravity, and how much the immune system will be reduced. The crew will be exposed to risks that no other human beings have before.

It was a great achievement by the human race to put the manned Apollo 11 on the moon more than 60 years ago, considered the technological limitations of that time, especially compared to today. But since the human itself is the weak link this time, the words from Neil Armstrong might need to be re-phrased when we see the first footprint on the surface of Mars next year: "Quite a big step for mankind, but a giant leap for the human being."
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