Scientists simulate life on Mars in Israeli rock crater

From the gate of the expedition base, a few small steps to the left passes an autonomous rover. A few giant steps to the right is a set of solar panels. The landscape is rocky, hilly, tinged with red. By design, he looks like Mars.
Here in Ramon Crater in the desert of southern Israel, a team of six people – five men and one woman – began to simulate what it will be like to live for about a month on the Red Planet.

Their AMADEE-20 habitat is nestled under a rocky outcrop. Inside, they sleep, eat and experiment. Outside, they wear fictional spacesuits equipped with cameras, microphones and self-contained breathing systems.

“Our motto is to fail fast, fail cheaply and have a steep learning curve. Because for every mistake we make here on earth, we hope not to repeat it on Mars, ”said Gernot Gromer, director of the Austrian Space Forum.

The Austrian association is leading the project with the Israel Space Agency and the local D-MARS group.

A number of recent Martian probes have captivated astronomy fans the world over with robotic rovers like NASA’s Perseverance and, for the first time, the Ingenuity helicopter, offering glimpses of the planet’s surface. But a manned mission is probably over a decade away.

With AMADEE-20, which was due to take place in 2020 but has been postponed due to COVID-19, the team hopes to bring new information that will help prepare for this mission when the time comes.

“The habitat, right now, is the most complex and modern analog research station on this planet,” said Gromer, standing next to the 120-square-meter (1,300-square-foot) shaped structure. two large connected yurts.

The six team members are constantly being filmed, their vital signs monitored, their movements inside tracked to analyze favorite places to congregate. All to better understand the human factor, said Gromer.

Outside, other engineers and specialists are working with a drone and a rover to improve autonomous navigation and mapping in a world where GPS is not available.

In total, they will perform more than 20 experiments in fields such as geology, biology and medicine and hope to publish some of the results once completed.

“There are six of us working in a tight space under a lot of pressure to do a lot of testing. There are bound to be challenges, ”said Alon Tenzer, 36, wearing the spacesuit that carries around 50 kg (110 lbs) of equipment. “But I trust my crew that we can overcome these challenges.”