Researchers are hoping that a replica research base in the Australian outback could help prepare people for life on Mars. Non-profit organisation Mars Society Australia (MSA) is the antipodean arm of a worldwide movement—and its primary goals, according to its website, are as follows:
- Broad public outreach to instil the vision of pioneering Mars.
- Support of more aggressive government funded Mars exploration programs around the world.
- Conducting Mars exploration on a private basis.
- Encourage Australian participation in planetary sciences and engineering in education, industry, and government.
In pursuit of those goals, MSA is renewing its push to get a simulated Mars research station built in the arid desert of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, in outback South Australia. The proposed site would include a fake rocket ship, laboratories, exploration rovers, and scientists in spacesuits performing field experiments, according to the ABC—all with the aim of simulating a future human community on the Red Planet.
"It will allow us to do a wide range of activities that support the vision of human presence on Mars," Jonathan Clarke, the president of the MSA, told the ABC. "We can train people in field science and space operations in the area, and we can do education and outreach programs.”
Dr Clarke explained that such a facility would allow researchers to “do experiments on monitoring human performance in remote areas, test medical procedures and monitoring, and also develop and test technology like hand tools and robotics." More generally, it's hoped that the site could provide some insight into what daily life might actually look like in a terraformed Martian colony. And that’s because, according to CEO Jason Held, the Australian outback echoes certain elements of Mars’ environment.
"Australia has got really good Mars-like geography and terrain, so that walking on the ground feels like Mars," he told the ABC. Held also noted that a permanent facility fitted with labs, communication service, and living quarters could be “a critical component” in grasping how future human operations will work on Mars. “You want to know not just what it’s like for people on Mars, but how you communicate with them and work with them from Earth," he said.
There have already been eight Mars simulations held at Arkaroola over the past 20 years, but in those cases the researchers worked in temporary structures rather than a permanent replica. And while MSA has been pushing for its own Mars analogue research station for some 18 years, researchers are hoping that the recent establishment of the Australian Space Agency—launched in July last year—may offer an opportunity to get the proposal off the ground.
"Australia has been lagging behind in the space sector for many decades," said Dr Clarke. "The establishment of the Australian Space Agency is a gamechanger for anyone wanting to develop space technology in Australia. This makes it possible to look for actual funding for an [analogue research station] from commercial and government sectors."