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“Mars on Earth” mission explained

MUSCAT:  Like what we read in science fictions, a desolate desert with seemingly endless dunes becomes a space station where scientists and volunteers are busy preparing their voyage to another planet.

This is what the Marmul desert in the Dhofar Governorate witnessed in February 2018! A real-life with astronauts making rehearsals for a manned voyage to Mars.  More than 200 scientists from 25 countries organized by the Austrian Space Forum spent a month in isolation on a simulated ‘red planet’ in the cinnamon-coloured dunes in the Dhofar desert.

For them, the desert, where temperatures reach 51 degrees Celsius, was the most realistic place on Earth, which is as uninviting as the landscape of Mars. And the surface of the desert is distinguished by salt domes, wadis, various types of geomorphology and structures that are similar to those in Mars.

The findings of this international simulated Mars mission AMADEE-18 along with the features of the Dhofar desert have been highlighted in a special edition devoted to the mission by Astrobiology Journal.

Mars1 (1)
Mars1 (1)


In cooperation with the Oman Astronomical Society and research teams from 25 nations, the Austrian Space Forum simulated a human-robotic Mars expedition conducting 19 experiments relevant to astrobiology, engineering disciplines, geoscience, operations research, and human factors.

Astrobiology Journal is dedicated to the understanding of life’s origin, evolution, and distribution in the universe, with a focus on new findings and discoveries from interplanetary exploration and laboratory research.

Commenting on the report, Gernot Grömer, Director of the Austrian Space Forum, said “This special edition of Astrobiology Journal marks a milestone in our commitment to sharing our findings with the scientific community.

Through simulating Mars missions and subsequently publishing their results the Austrian Space Forum has dedicated itself to further preparations of the human exploration of the Red Planet”.

According to the report, the deserts of Dhofar, the largest governorate in the Sultanate of Oman, 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 AMADEE-18 objectives were to study operational workflows of a human/robotic Mars mission and experiments pertinent to future flight missions. It not only served as a testing platform for human factors observations, geoscientific techniques, and engineering experiments but also to study the test site for its analogue potential”, point out the report.

The Austrian Space Forum’s next mission will take a crew of six astronauts to Israel in October 2021, the Forum said. The mission will be hosted by the Israel Space Agency and conducted in cooperation with science teams from nine countries.

A carefully selected field crew, supported by a Mission Support Center in Innsbruck, Austria, conducted 19 experiments relevant to astrobiology, engineering disciplines, geoscience, operations research, and human factors.

“This expedition was the 12th in a series of analogue missions that emulate selected aspects of the science expected for a human Mars mission, including the characterization of the geological environment, human factors studies, and the search for biomarkers”, the report reveals.

In particular, an Exploration Cascade was deployed as a suggested workflow for coordinating the timing and location of the respective instruments and experiments. In validation of this workflow, the decision-making interaction between the field and the Mission Support Center was studied.

The Austrian Space Forum is a national network for aerospace engineers, scientists and people with a passion for space. The citizen-science organization is involved in cutting-edge space exploration research and serves as a communication and networking platform between the space sector, industry, academia and the public.

The report in the Journal describes the mission architecture, infrastructure, and the test site, and includes an overview of the Mission Support Center architecture. This is followed by descriptions of the experiments and a reference to other articles in this special collection and the “Exploration Cascade” as an innovative approach to combining the workflows of the experiments, as well as an analysis of the mission performance and lessons learned.


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