A group of six “ramonauts” from Austria, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain will be spending three weeks in Mitzpe Ramon in southern Israel in November to carry out a simulation of a manned mission to Mars.
The test, held from October 4-31, is intended to simulate the extreme conditions under which the first astronauts to land on Mars will be required to survive. The project, set up by the Israeli Space Agency (ISA) in conjunction with the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) was dubbed D-Mars.
The crew will be carrying out a variety of experiments across many disciplines, including physics, soil studies, microbial studies, psychology, agriculture, water supply, and engineering. They will also be testing a drone prototype and rover that functions without GPS. They will also be testing automated wind- and solar-powered mapping vehicles.
The simulation will even conduct blackout periods, a planetary phenomenon on the Red Planet where Mars passes almost directly behind the sun from the perspective of the Earth, causing difficulties in radio communication.
“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.
Another subject of testing will be the “analog astronauts”, five men and one woman, who will be in isolation inside a virtual Mars station.
“The group’s cohesion and their ability to work together are crucial for surviving on Mars,” Groemer said. “It’s like a marriage, except in a marriage you can leave but on Mars, you can’t.”
“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. “But I trust my crew that we are able to overcome those challenges.”
The Makhtesh (crater) is visually similar to the red planet with rocky and barren landscapes and, more importantly, in terms of geology, aridity, and isolation..
“Over here, we have temperatures of about 25-30 degrees Celsius, but on Mars the temperature is minus 60 degrees Celsius and the atmosphere is not fit for breathing,” said Groemer.
The gravity of Mars is about 38% of Earth’s gravity at the surface. The major component of Mars air, CO2 gas, is denser than Earth air for a given pressure. The atmospheric pressure of Mars can only be duplicated in a vacuum chamber. The “analog Mars base” has an airlock and the ramonauts will be required to wear spacesuits when exiting to walk around the popular tourist site.
The faux spacesuits will carry 110 pounds of equipment including cameras, microphones, and self-contained breathing systems.
NASA has set the launch for the first human mission to Mars in 2030. The trip is estimated to take 300 days.
A similar 120-day study in Hawaii tested a space food diet and equipment tests were carried out inside Austrian mountain caves in 2012. Some conditions on Mars are impossible or incredibly difficult to duplicate on Earth. The gravity of Mars is about 38% of Earth’s gravity at the surface. The major component of Mars air, CO2 gas, is denser than Earth air for a given pressure. The atmospheric pressure of Mars can only be duplicated in a vacuum chamber.