Austrian Astronauts Are Simulating Martian Life in a Remote Desert in Israel

Regardless of their success, few experiments capture the world’s attention like a space mission. After all, there’s something so intriguing about the infinite mysteries surrounding the universe beyond Earth. On October 11 the world once again thought of space when news of the latest celestial experiment, the AMADEE-20 Mars Simulation program, got underway. Unlike past operations that took place in Austria and Oman, this AMADEE-20 is unfolding in Israel, but not in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv. The mission is happening in the extremely remote Negev desert, a nearly four-hour drive from the country’s capital.

AMADEE-20 is taking place near Israel’s 25-mile-long Ramon Crater.Photo: Florian Voggeneder

The Austrian Space Forum (ÖWF), the Israel Space Agency, and an Israeli space analog research center called D-Mars have sent a skilled crew of six suited-up analog astronauts into a planetary dome designed to mimic what the conditions in Mars, in all its freezing glory, would be like. The crew, led by Portuguese commander and aerospace engineer João Lousada, is to perform around 20 experiments that range in focus from biology and medicine to psychology and geology. All in all, however, the study is a collaboration between 200 researchers from 25 different countries.

Though the crew won’t actually be conducting these unique experiments on the Red Planet, they may as well be. The six astronauts slipped into their Austrian Space Forum-developed, 110-pound Mars suit prototypes—designed specifically for this mission—and headed into a weeks-long isolation in the protected 1,300-square-foot dome near Israel’s Ramon Crater. It may not exactly be a luxurious space-friendly mansion, but it does boast a few amenities that typical homes do not. For instance, the entrance isn’t a run-of-the-mill wood door with a metal knob; it’s a highly secure airlock.

Two members of the crew, donning their customized Mars-friendly spacesuits, take a stroll in front of the titanium habitat. Photo: Florian Voggeneder

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