Oman deserts perfect for mimicking Mars

The Hollywood science fiction movie The Martian shows a marooned astronaut making great efforts to grow potatoes on the Red Planet. The Mars simulation experiment in the Marmul desert of south Oman too will see a similar experiment being undertaken to ensure proper nutritional intake for the AMADEE-18 Mars Analog Mission team members. Since food supply for astronauts is one of the biggest challenges of living on Mars, this project, called Hortextreme, will be taken up by the team, which will begin its experiments from February 5.

They will continue for four weeks. Hortextreme is an experiment aimed at developing an innovative cultivation system useful in the roadmap to Mars exploration and colonisation, expanding the scientific knowledge on the Bioregenerative Systems management and performances. The experiment, to be conducted under principal investigators Sara Piccirillo, Eugenio Benvenuto and Luca Nardi, will also consist of two sqm of hydroponic cultivation to provide the crew with healthy and high quality diet. The team has described the mission as part of an effort to “pave the way for future human Mars exploration, the biggest adventure of our generation”.

In a statement, Gernot Gromer, field commander, AMADEE18, said, “We will be mimicking the search for life in the Red Planet. So it will be a unique combination of instruments which will be deployed on the Red Planet. The deserts of Oman are a superb surrogate for mimicking the search for life on Mars. It is an area that is so similar to Mars.” He added, “We do not know who will be the first people to step on Mars, but we believe they are already born. We are like ship-builders helping in training and defining the workflows on how to operate the ships set for sailing. We are those ship-builders. Whatever mission to Mars will look like, we will be part of that future, closer to the Red Planet.”

According to the Austrian Space Forum, the deserts of Dhofar have a resemblance to various Mars surface features such as the sedimentary structures dating back to 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 expected temperatures at the test site in February will be in the range of 16-27°C with less than 10 mm of precipitation. As for the preparations, the team said, “Driving in the desert is not easy, but the trucks carrying our AMADEE18 containers have made it safe and sound to the base camp. After a long trip from Innsbruck (Austria), we have all our hardware ready to start preparing the simulation.”

Vinod Nair