The Associated Press DHOFAR DESERT, Oman (AP) — Two scientists in spacesuits, stark white against the auburn terrain of desolate plains and dunes, test a geo-radar built to map Mars by dragging the flat box across the rocky sand.
When the geo-radar stops working, the two walk back to their all-terrain vehicles and radio colleagues at their nearby base camp for guidance. They can’t turn to their mission command, far off in the Alps, because communications from there are delayed 10 minutes. But this isn’t the red planet — it’s the Arabian Peninsula.
The desolate desert in southern Oman, near the borders of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, resembles Mars so much that more than 200 scientists from 25 nations chose it as their location for the next four weeks, to field-test technology for a manned mission to Mars.
The successful launch of SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket last week “puts us in a completely different realm of what we can put into deep space, what we can send to Mars,” said analog astronaut Kartik Kumar.
The next step to Mars, he says, is to tackle non-engineering problems like medical emergency responses and isolation.
“These are things I think can’t be underestimated.” Kumar said.
Seen from space, the Dhofar Desert is a flat, brown expanse. Few animals or plants survive in the desert expanses of the Arabian Peninsula, where temperatures can top 51 C.
On the eastern edge of a seemingly endless dune is the Oman Mars Base: a giant 2.4-ton inflated habitat surrounded by shipping containers turned into labs and crew quarters.
The desert’s surface resembles Mars so much, it’s hard to tell the difference, Kumar said, his spacesuit caked in dust.