RAMON CRATER: From the entrance of the expedition base, walk a few steps to the left and an autonomous rover passes by. Several huge leaps to the right are a set of solar panels. The landscape is rocky, hilly and slightly red. It is intentionally similar to Mars.
Here, in the Ramon crater in the southern desert of Israel, a team of six—five men and a woman—started to simulate living on this red planet for about a month.
Their AMADEE-20 habitat is hidden under rocky outcrops. They sleep, eat and conduct experiments inside. Outside, they wear simulated space suits equipped with cameras, microphones and self-contained breathing systems.
“We have the motto of fail fast, fail cheap, and have a steep learning curve. Because for every mistake we make here on earth, we hope we don t repeat it on Mars,” said Gernot Gromer, director of the Austrian Space Forum.
The Austrian association is running the project together with the Israel Space Agency and local group D-MARS.
A number of recent Mars probes have captivated astronomy fans across the world with robotic rovers like NASA s Perseverance and, for the first time, the helicopter Ingenuity, offering a glance of the planet s surface. But a manned mission is likely more than a decade off.
With AMADEE-20, which was supposed to happen in 2020 but was postponed due to COVID-19, the team hopes to bring new insight that will help prepare for that mission, when it comes.
“The habitat, right now, is the most complex, the most modern analog research station on this planet,” said Gromer, standing beside the 120 sq meter (1,300 sq feet) structure shaped like two large, connected yurts.
Six team members are constantly in front of the camera, monitoring their vital signs and tracking their internal activities to analyze their favorite gathering places. Gromer said all of this is to better understand human factors.
Outside, other engineers and experts work with drones and rover vehicles to improve autonomous navigation and mapping in a world where GPS is unavailable.
Altogether they will carry out more than 20 experiments in fields including geology, biology and medicine and hope to publish some of the results when finished.
“We are six people working in a tight space under a lot of pressure to do a lot of tests. There are bound to be challenges,” said Alon Tenzer, 36, wearing the space suit that carries some 50 kg (110 lb) of equipment. “But I trust my crew that we are able to overcome those challenges.”