Oman Mars Desert Simulation Prepares Humans for Colonizing the Red Planet
Right now, in the barren Oman desert, a group of would-be astronauts is roaming around in aluminum space suits, training for what hopefully amounts to an eventual trip to Mars.
Led by the volunteer collective Austrian Space Forum and backed by the Omani government, the AMADEE-18 Mars Analog Mission is made up of researchers, inventors, space professionals and enthusiasts all focused on how to sustain human life when we finally land on the red planet. Last week, the analog mission kicked off its experiments on engineering, planetary surface operations, astrobiology, geophysics/geology, and life sciences.
The Austrian Space Forum says the analog mission is designed to function as "an opportunity to study equipment, procedures and workflows under Mars analog conditions with humans-in-the-loop; a platform for testing life-detection or geophysical techniques, terrain tests for rovers and increase the situational awareness of remote support teams; [a study of] the test site as a model region for Martian deserts and extreme life," and " an outreach platform to enhance the visibility of planetary sciences."
The mission support infrastructure was established based upon 11 preceding Mars analog missions. The ASF has also trained and certified flight controllers and field crew members, along with building out a coherent strategy for an actual mission to Mars.
"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," the ASF says. "An expert media team will ensure a high international public visibility."
The AMADEE test site in Oran provides ideal conditions for such an analog mission. The deserts of Dhofar resemble various Mars surface features including sedimentary structures that go back to the Paleocene and Eocene eras, salt domes, and ancient river beds.
While such a mission might have seemed like a pipe dream undertaken by a government that desperately wants to be involved in the exploration of Mars even a decade ago, the vast progress in civilian space exploration means the project is worth taking seriously. Fresh off the heels of his historic Space-x Falcon Heavy rocket launch last week, Elon Musk can now focus on building out his "Transcontinental Railway" to Mars. On top of his existing pans to create a Martian colony, Musk has announced his space exploration company, SpaceX, also wants to run a regular passenger and cargo shuttle service between Earth and Mars in order to bring goods, supplies, and passengers to and from the Red Planet, creating a solid commercial trade link between the two worlds.
Oman's involvement in this AMADEE-18 analog mission might be more than just the fact that they have optimal desert conditions, too. The country's neighbor to the east is the United Arab Emirates, which has a plan to colonize Mars that makes all others look pretty weak in comparison.