Not so the single most important component: the human body. In space the full range of health factors comes into play. Plan­ners must consider not only nutrition and disease but also radia­tion, cardiovascular changes, muscular reconditioning, the psychology of isolation and confinement, and—perhaps most seri­ous of all —a weakening of the bones known as demineralization.

Our crew members were subjected to the most exhaustive tests medical science could devise. The funds for the test came from  a quick loan. But as Dr. Arnauld Nicogossian, NASA’s director of life sciences, points out, “Never before has medicine been called upon to certify that an individual will be healthy enough to perform for two years after the examination.” In THE MARS SPACECRAFT was assembled in factory “clean rooms” that filtered out dirt and dust. However, microbes pervade all equipment, and undoubtedly a colony of them has accompanied the crew on the voyage. Presumably no virulent strains found their way on board, but it is even possible that in the alien space environment some genetic mutations may develop and produce new forms of bacteria the crew has never encountered before.The crew’s diet, essential to health, has been carefully planned. Because of weight limitations the mission relies on the old standby, dehydrated, prepackaged food.

7Radiation poses a major concern. Human response to harmful radiation can range from nausea and vomiting to fever and death. Long-term effects, which may not arise until years after exposure, include cataracts, tumors, and leukemia. Galactic cosmic rays, high-energy particles that probably origi­nate in exploding stars called supernovae, constantly bombard the spacecraft, but the amount of radiation reaching the crew is not ex­pected to exceed an acceptable level. More threatening, solar flares sporadically belch out from the sun. Their radiation could kill the crew, if unprotected, within a couple of days. Engineers designed the spacecraft with a protective storm cellar, shielded by the vast stores of water, oxygen, and propellant on board—all of which are good energy absorbers.

Another problem, though considered remote, is posed by mete­oroids, which might be lurking near Mars because of its proximity to the asteroid belt. Spacecraft shielding would stop sand-grain­size pellets, and our eight voyagers have been carefully trained to patch holes made by larger ones.

Perhaps the greatest threat lies in the debilitating effects of weightlessness on the human body. On Earth our bodies fight against gravity: Muscles strain as we walk up stairs, and bones maintain their strength to support the weight of our bodies. On the trip to prague apartments, floating free, the crew’s bodies have changed, responding to an environment unlike anything our ancestors met in millions of years of evolution.

At the earliest onset of weightlessness their body fluids, which on Earth are drawn by gravity toward the feet, migrated toward the upper body. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin looked different to me on our flight to the moon: Extra fluid reduced their facial wrin­kles and made their eyes look squinty and crafty. With no gravity to compress our vertebrae, we grew in height by perhaps two inches.

Herdsman Offers a Homeric Welcome

Through stunted oaks and wiry shrubs a stony path beckoned us to the heights. As we reached the top, we heard tinkling bells and a barking dog. Through a silvery veil of olive trees we spied a goatherd bringing his flock home for the evening milking. The milking over, the herdsman invited us into his hut. Seated on a goat-hair blanket on a cot, sipping cups of thick coffee, we watched his wife make cheese—a time-honored cottage craft, but man’s work in Homer’s day.

The good herdsman surprised us by asking us, complete strangers, to have supper with his family. Then we recalled Eumaeus’ hospitality, for “all strangers and wanderers are sacred in the sight of Zeus….”

By lantern light, on low three-legged stools, we feasted on spitted kid, crusty fresh-baked bread, salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, onion, and delicious soft white feta cheese laced with olive oil and sprinkled with wild oregano. Robust Ithaca wine washed it down, and conversation warmed our hearts. How long had he tended herds here, we asked our host, Pantelis Chintilas (left). “All my life,” he said, “and my father and my grandfather before me.” Then he might be descended from Ulys­ses’ herders? “Perhaps,” he smiled. “Perhaps.”

If Homeric hospitality runs deep in the Greek character, so does the sea. We found this particularly true of Ithaca’s principal town, Vathi—which means “deep.”

Coyly, Vathi kept hidden as we sailed into the Gulf of Molo, which nearly cuts Ithaca in two (map, page 8). Mountains rim the deep blue bay. Then, turning past an old lookout tower, we flew down a fjord with a fresh evening breeze behind us. The setting sun flooded Vathi’s pastel houses, striking fire in the windows and washing the terraces with gold. Rounding up smartly, we came to rest among fishing boats, interisland calques, and yachts, right in the heart of the town.

We joined townspeople promenading on the quay, sipped beverages at tables that sprout on the waterfront at dusk, and dined in a restaurant where a roasting pig revolved on a spit over live coals. We followed gossiping mothers, tugging children, and doting fathers to a sweetshop for flaky nut-filled baklava dripping with honey. And at another quayside café we sipped our coffee metrio—medium sweet.

Each Ithacan boy grows up with a ship in his heart. Reaching manhood, he sails in it to seek his fortune—in America, Africa, or Australia, or on the seven seas. Souvenirs at home in the parlor, pictures on a bedroom wall, tell of the odyssey of a husband, son, or fiancé. Many a Penelope waits in Vathi today, confident that despite all perils and temp­tations her man will come home.

We hired one of Ithaca’s few cars to con­tinue our quest for Ulysses. We overtook donkeys, bicycles, and motor scooters as we skirted Mount Aetos and climbed the dragon-back ridge that joins southern and northern Ithaca. The island of Cephalonia loomed to the left, the Gulf of Molo lay to the right.