Mars quest starts in Oman
IN sunglasses and jumpsuits, a crew of European test astronauts is laying the groundwork for a Mars simulation in the barren expanse of the Omani desert, a terrestrial mission intended to pave the way to the red planet.
The “analog astronauts” of the Austrian Space Forum -- a volunteer-based collective -- have arrived in Oman to begin preparations for a four-week simulation mission due to begin next year.
Touching down at Marmul Airport, a remote outpost used by oil workers, the five-person advance team loaded up on sunscreen and, with their Omani counterparts dressed in crisp white gowns and colourful turbans, boarded 4x4s and plunged into the desert under the blazing sun. Oil installations receded into the background and only rocky plateaus and ancient sandy riverbeds remained as far as the eye could see.
Maps were spread on the bonnets of the vehicles.
“We want to simulate Mars on Earth and so we need a place that looks as much like Mars as possible. And we found it here in Oman,” Alexander Soucek, the lead flight director of the AMADEE-18 mission, said.
“Here the humans coming from Earth will land after six months travel through space – simulated, of course!” Soucek said upon arrival at the chosen site.
During the mission, the team will carry out a series of experiments, from growing greens without soil in an inflatable hydroponic greenhouse to testing an autonomous “tumbleweed” rover, which maps out terrain while propelled by the wind.