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What would it be like to live on Mars?

Credit: Kevin Gill via flickr

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live on Mars? NASA and an international team working with the HI-SEAS program recently finished up their longest simulation yet in order to determine just that. Six scientists spent 365 days in a geodesic dome on the side of a Hawaiian volcano to better understand whether or not people could really survive and be productive while stuck in a tiny, enclosed space without privacy, fresh food, or fresh air. Simulated missions, where the members were required to wear space suits, were the only times that the group was allowed to leave the dome.

While the simulation appears to have been a success—all six walked out under their own power with nary a black eye or missing tooth among them—technological advances continue to outpace the human element with regards to our understanding of how feasible a trip to Mars truly is. Simulations, like those from the HI-SEAS group, hope to provide such answers and will play a key role in helping NASA better prepare for that eventuality.

But, as mission commander Carmel Johnston described, living in the dome was a struggle at times: "It is kind of like having roommates that just are always there and you can never escape them so I'm sure some people can imagine what that is like and if you can't then just imagine never being able to get away from anybody." That the crew survived it, and appeared to be in good spirits by the end of their time together, bodes well for pushing the limits even further next time. Recruitment is already underway for similar experiments to begin in 2017 and 2018. But considering that any mission to the red planet could take as long as three years to complete, there's still a great deal left to learn before the simulations can become a reality.

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Child Suicide Bomber Attacks during Turkish Wedding

Credit: Mahmut Bozarslan via AP

Fifty-one people were killed and nearly seventy injured in a Turkish town near the Syrian border on Saturday night. While no group had claimed responsibility for the attack as of Monday afternoon, Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was quick to lay the blame at ISIS's feet. The blast, set off by a suicide bomber no older than fourteen, took place late in the evening at a Kurdish wedding celebration. Given the attacker's age, it's unclear whether he detonated the vest himself or if it was triggered remotely.

Many of those killed and wounded were no older than the bomber, as the children were gathered closer to where the detonation took place while their parents and other adults danced in the street. And while knowing why the attack happened will do little to comfort those now mourning the loss of family and friends, the prevailing belief is that the target was chosen in retaliation for the Kurds' help in driving ISIS out of their Syrian stronghold of Manbij and/or as a warning to Turkey, who recently stated that they would step up their official presence in the conflict.

It would appear that ISIS wants other nations to think twice before entering the fray, which is understandable considering the fairly consistent defeats the terrorist organization has suffered across recent months. Similar logic is behind the escalating violence in Baghdad, and it's really the only thing they can do to fight back as their footprint in the region grows smaller and smaller. Their willingness to show a complete disregard for innocent life is part of what makes the group so dangerous, but it also offers constant reminders of why it's so important that they be defeated.

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When prejudice is an improvement

Credit: Markus Schreiber via AP

The official slogan for this year's Olympic Games is "A New World." That phrase was inspired by the Rio committee's desire to break "down barriers" and respect "one another," as well as the belief that "Together, we can transform the world."

For the most part, the Games have accomplished that goal fairly well. Unfortunately, the judo match between Israel's Or Sasson and Egypt's Islam El Shehaby provided an unwelcome reminder that athletic competition can only accomplish so much. Sasson won the match in the first round with two throws of Shehaby and offered the Egyptian the customary handshake before parting ways.

In Judo, combatants are required to either shake hands or bow to one another after a match as a sign of respect. However, Shehaby, an ultraconservative Salafi Muslim, backed away and shook his head in an indication that he would not return his Jewish counterpart's gesture of good will. The referee eventually forced him to return to the mat, where he gave a quick nod before exiting to a chorus of boos from the crowd.

While the crowd, the IOC, and the Egyptian Olympic Committee all disparaged Shehaby's actions, Sasson stated afterwards that he was not surprised. The Israeli told reporters that his coaches had warned him that Shehaby might refuse to reciprocate the gesture of respect. He would go on to say that it was "a little bit weird" but that ultimately "it doesn't matter because I'm a professional fighter." Sasson would go on to win the Bronze while Shehaby was sent back to Egypt shortly after the match.

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How can Japan balance past and present if emperor steps down?

Credit: Eugene Hoshiko via AP

Japanese Emperor Akihito delivered a nationally broadcast message on Monday in which he indicated his desire to step down from the throne in the near future. It was only the second time in his twenty-eight-year reign that he has delivered a video message to the whole of Japan, the first coming after a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, created the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. He felt this speech necessary after rumors began to circulate last month about his plans to abdicate.

In describing the need to renounce his position, Akihito cited concerns over his health and the effects of age on his ability to adequately perform the duties required by the "symbol of the state," as he is referred to in Japan's constitution. While those duties no longer include direct governance or rule, he remains an important figure within Japanese society.

The emperor seemed fairly confident that he could continue to exist in the role were mere existence all that was required. However, he expects more of himself than that and stated that his country deserves more than that from its leader. Akihito prides himself on his willingness to travel the country in order to better understand and serve his people, but he fears that his body is no longer up to the task.

The process of stepping down, however, is neither simple nor straightforward. While choosing a successor will be easy—his eldest son, Crown Prince Naruhito, stands ready to take his place—an emperor hasn't voluntarily left the throne since 1817. Moreover, there are currently no provisions in Japanese law to handle the abdication progress and many fear it could open a "Pandora's box" of issues as it gives grounds for a complete review of the imperial family's role in Japanese society.

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Japanese literally working themselves to death

Credit: Shuji Kajiyama via AP

In America, it's fairly common to hear people describe their desire to have a better work-life balance. Countless books have been written on the subject, and seminars that claim to have the key to managing the demands of one's job and life abound. That's not the case everywhere, though, and Japan offers a startling contrast. As the Washington Post's Anna Fifield writes, "In Japan, there's not even a term for 'work-life balance.' What there is, though, is a word for 'death by overwork.' It's 'karoshi,' and it's considered such an inevitable result of Japan's notoriously grueling work culture that it's hardly even discussed."

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Japan's workers, often still in their 20s and 30s, die each year by work-induced heart attack, stroke, or suicide. Twelve-hour days are considered the norm and individuals often hesitate to clock their overtime for fear that it will result in negative evaluations from their superiors. As a result, "service overtime"—in which the employers receive countless hours of free labor—are commonplace. Vacation days are seldom used for the same reason.

The general work culture, one borne largely from the country's economic difficulties in the 1990s, and the relatively weak labor unions place enormous stress on individual workers to go along with the system. Moreover, there isn't nearly as much mobility within the Japanese economy as is found in many Western countries, meaning that workers often can't simply leave for a job that will treat them better.

Government programs encouraging employees to take their vacation and aimed at reducing the number of workers who regularly clock more than sixty hours a week could help. However, as Koji Morioka, an emeritus professor at Kansai University, notes, a lasting solution will only come when they "change the overtime culture and create the time for family and hobbies. Long hours are the root of all evil in Japan. People are so busy they don't even have the time to complain."

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