ASTRONAUTS train at a site in Israel’s Negev desert that simulates the conditions on Mars.—AFP
ASTRONAUTS train at a site in Israel’s Negev desert that simulates the conditions on Mars.—AFP

MITZPE RAMON: Inside a huge crater in Israel’s sun-baked Negev desert, a team wearing space suits ventures forth on a mission to simulate conditions on Mars.

The Austrian Space Forum has set up a pretend Martian base with the Israeli space agency at Makhtesh Ramon, a 500-metre (1,600-foot) deep, 40 kilometre wide crater.

The six so-called “analogue astronauts” will live in isolation in the virtual station until the end of the month.

“It’s a dream come true,” Israeli Alon Tenzer, 36, said. “It’s something we’ve been working on for years.” The participants — from Austria, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain — all had to pass gruelling physical and psychological tests.

During their mission, they will conduct tests including on a drone prototype that functions without GPS, and on automated wind- and solar-powered mapping vehicles.

The mission will also aim to study human behaviour and the effect of isolation on the astronauts.

“The group’s cohesion and their ability to work together are crucial for surviving on Mars,” said Gernot Groemer, the Austrian mission supervisor.

“It’s like a marriage, except in a marriage you can leave but on Mars you can’t.”

The Austrian Space Forum, a private organisation made up of aerospace specialists, has already organised 12 missions, the most recent in Oman in 2018.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2021

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