Dhofar readying for Mars mission trials

The Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) in partnership with the Sultanate of Oman will conduct a highly international Mars analog field simulation in the Dhofar Governorate in February 2018.
A six-member strong team of astronauts has been preparing to come to the Dhofar desert next year in an attempt to simulate what life
will be like on Mars.
The four-week mission — Amadee-18 — is directed by Mission Support Center in Austria in partnership with the Oman National Steering Committee.
There will be a total of 19 experiments in the fields of geosciences, engineering, planetary surface operations, life sciences including astrobiology and human factors.
“A six-member strong team of astronauts is preparing to head to the Dhofar desert next year in an attempt to simulate what life will be like on Mars”, said a report quoting Mailonline.
Among the scientific equipment they will take with them for the Amadee-18 experiment will be a drone, robotic rovers and a hydroponic greenhouse.
“The astronauts are using the trial as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for future missions to the red planet. In February 2018, they will spend four weeks living in almost complete isolation”, the report said. A second team will run the mission control centre from Innsbruck, with a 10-minute signal delay between the two teams – just as there would be on Mars.
One of their most important pieces of kit is a genetic sequencing device that will feed data back to a team of biologists led by Julie Blommaert, a doctoral student in experimental evolutionary ecology at the University of Innsbruck.
OeWF is a citizen science organization for space professionals and people with a passion for space in collaboration with both national and international research institutions, industry and politics.
In a statement about the mission, a spokesperson for the Austrian Space Forum said, “The deserts of Dhofar have a resemblance to various Mars surface features, such as sedimentary structures dating back to the Paleocene and Eocene, salt domes of the South Oman Salt Basin and ancient river beds”.
The test site offers a wide range of sand and rocky surfaces combined with a broad variability in inclination, the statement added.
The Amadee-18 experiment is the boldest yet in a series of Mars analogue adventures that have taken place at a glacier in the Alps, an open-cast mine in southern Spain and a stretch of the Sahara in Morocco.
The selected experiments are to be tested in the field during the mission.
The selection process consisted of an intensive peer review session within the Austrian Space Forum and marks the first step in preparations for the mission.
“We are very proud to announce that we have received a great number of innovative, cutting-edge experiment submissions to be carried out aboard our 13th analog mission in the Oman desert.
I personally believe, that many of the experiments selected belong to some of the strongest mission experiments we have seen yet”, stresses Dr Gernot Grömer, President of the Austrian Space Forum and Mission Field Commander.
Hosting this enterprise presents a great opportunity to promote Oman as technology advanced and progressive.
Oman will be part of the leading edge of research in one of the most promising fields.
Inviting brilliant scientists from across the globe will give Oman the chance to enhance its international reputation by presenting the Middle East from a new and different angle.
Based upon preceding Mars analog missions, the Austrian Space Forum has established a mission support infrastructure, trained and certified flight controllers and field crew members as well as a programmatic roadmap to implement a coherent strategy.
Field activities will be scheduled through a “flight plan”, supported by a remote science team and directed by flight controllers at the Mission Support Center in Austria.
An expert media team will ensure a high international public visibility.
The deserts of Dhofar have a resemblance to various Mars surface features, such as sedimentary structures dating back to the Paleocene and Eocene, salt domes of the South Oman Salt Basin and ancient river beds.
The test site offers a wide range of sand and rocky surfaces combined with a broad variability in inclination.
The temperature in Salalah, which is the nearest major city to the test site, is expected to range between 16-27°C with less than 10 mm of precipitation in February.

SAMUEL KUTTY