Space agencies are preparing for future Mars missions by carrying out space-like simulation missions here on Earth.
In the latest example, the Israel Space Agency and the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) sent six "analog astronauts", five men and one woman, to a fake Mars habitat where they will spend the rest of the month as if they were on the red planet, a report by The Independent reveals.
The mission started on October 11 and will finish on October 31. During that time, all communication will be delayed to "simulate the signal propagation time between Earth and Mars," OeWF director Dr. Gernot Grömer explained.
The mission, called AMADEE-20, will take place in the D-Mars analog Mars habitat in Israel's Negev Desert and it will be managed by 'mission control' at the Austrian Space Forum, also known as OeWF. The D-Mars habitat was designed to mimic real designs for "ground segments" that are currently being considered for future Mars missions. Any communication between the "analog astronauts" will have a 10-minute delay to simulate the real-world communication lag experienced by NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) linking the Earth to Mars.
The team of analog astronauts, which is composed of international volunteers from Austria, Germany, Israel, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands, will wear an "elaborate spacesuit prototype" any time they step outside of the simulated space habitat, a press statement from the Austrian Space Forum explains. The suit, which weighs 45 kg (99 lb), was designed to impede movement and features medical telemetry to make it as true as possible to the spacesuits envisioned for Mars. The analog space explorers will be asked to look for weak spots in these suits to help improve the design for future missions.
Testing future space procedures
During the mission, which is also referred to as the isolation phase in the OeWF statement, the analog astronauts will carry out tests on procedures devised by the European Space Agency (ESA). These include a method to keep devices free of space dust, which can be extremely harmful to machinery as well as the health of astronauts. A 3D printer will also be tested to determine its feasibility for future space missions.
In the Austrian Space Forum statement, OeWF director Dr. Gernot Grömer said, "this is our first mission where our analog astronauts will live and work entirely independently in their habitat for three weeks. A small on-site support team will be available for technical problems and maintenance, but will not be allowed to interact with the analog astronauts."
This is not the first mission to simulate space conditions on Earth and it likely won't be the last as NASA and other space agencies gear up to back to the moon and to Mars in the next two decades. In August, for example, NASA announced it was looking for volunteers to spend a whole year in a simulated Mars habitat at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, beginning in the Fall of 2022. Such missions will provide invaluable data on the effects of isolation in space, as well as on the logistics and the machinery required for future missions on Mars.