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Austromars: Austria is looking for six Martians

Do you feel fit for a Mission to Mars? In a research station in the desert of Utah, six Austrians will have the opportunity to sniff Mars' atmosphere for two weeks. Here you can read how it works.



Simulated team of astronauts during a rescue of injured in the desert of Utah
Picture by Gernot Grömer

Leading space agencies of America and Europe, NASA and ESA, are preparing for their first manned flight to Mars. Also Russia, China, Japan and even India presented similarly ambitious plans. But it will still take several decades before a human being can leave its footprint in the dust of our neighbouring planet, having survived a flight that lasts for months. The main reason for this is that the first real "Martians" would have to install a small habitable laboratory on Mars, a so-called habitat, to survive a minimum time of two weeks when a secure return to the Earth is possible again, because of an advantageous planetary configuration. But the required technologies still need a lot of testing, not to mention the extreme living conditions on the red planet, which still have to be extensively simulated on Earth.

If, and when an Austrian will ever set foot on Mars is still in the stars. However the chance for six Austro-Martians to participate in a scientific Mars-Simulation in a habitat of the American Mars-Society in the desert of Utah, is very realistic. It's a unique project initiated by the "Austrian Space Forum" (ÖWF), which is probably the (accomplishable) dream of countless Mars-enthusiasts.

Astrophysicist Dr. Gernot Grömer trying on spacesuits for Mars
Picture by Gernot Grömer

Two years ago astrophysicist Gernot Grömer from the ÖWF was the first Austrian who got the opportunity to spend two weeks in the NASA co-financed "Mars Desert Research Station" completely isolated from the outside world: "At that time the idea was to show that a Mars-crew doesn't need 200 litres of water per day, as supposed so far, but only 80. Because water would have to be taken along on the long journey from Earth to Mars. And this means many tons that the spaceship would have to cart along. Like in a real Mars mission there were only two hours per day where radio contact to the outside world was possible because of the rotating planets. And even then only every 20 minutes, because in reality the radio signal needs about 10 minutes to cover the distance of 160 million kilometres to Earth. In our fully air-conditioned space suits, having 20 kilograms of weight, we went on excursions to the Mars-like desert of Utah. We simulated rescue missions and took samples which were then investigated in our habitat. Everything was absolutely realistic, because in contrast to the moon, there is heavy gravity on Mars, even if it is not as heavy as here on Earth. Only once, when we met a group of tourists on our artificial Mars, the whole thing became really funny..."

Simulation for astronauts: A decompression chamber for testing the physical stress
Picture by Österreichisches Weltraumforum

If you have the time and feel like taking part in the "Austromars" mission where also the remote controlled "Marsrover" developed by a Viennese school will be used, and if you are at the recommended age of 25 to 40 and you feel capable of getting through psychological and physical tests as well as studying space-theories have a look at www.austromars.at. There you will find more details, links and also application papers for the "Austromars" project.

After a weekend in the Alps the six final candidates will be selected from four sections, namely Graz, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna until the end of January 2006. These six candidates and three additional substitutes will prepare themselves for the mission on several weekends in spring 2006. These preparations include orientation in unknown terrain, microbiology, practical training in electronics and everything else you could need on Mars. The true "Austromars" mission will then take place in April 2006.


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© A report by Tobias Micke (11-09-05) – Contact