Oman Mars mission to provide priceless insights on red planet
January 31, 2018 | 10:24 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan, [email protected]
Some of the key experiments to be carried out by the scientists are the testing of the Aouda spacesuit, mapping techniques through sonic waves, and field tests of rovers. Photo-Shabin E

Muscat: The lessons learned from Oman’s Mars simulation mission will provide priceless data for the scientific community in the future, according to Dr Gernot Gromer, field commander of AMADEE-18, a scientific research mission that will simulate experiments in the Dhofari town of Marmul in Oman’s desert to test their success ahead of a manned mission to Mars in the future.

Oman’s desert is a near-perfect replica of the Martian terrain, making it the right testing ground for the 20 or so experiments that will be conducted from February 5 onward.

“I know this might sound trivial, but how you plan for such missions can be a game changer,” said Gromer before leaving for Marmul. “We are now in a transition phase, where we are choosing what strengths we need and how we deploy them in the most diligent way, and that is where Oman comes in, because of its size, topography and mineralogy.

“I think what we have to understand is that there is nowhere on our planet that works as the perfect Mars analogue site,” he added. “When we need to test whether we can cover large distances on sand, the desert is appropriate for us. When we need to test at the lowest temperatures, we need to go to Antarctica. We are putting together Mars and its several environmental constraints piece by piece, here on Earth. There are many things we can do in the laboratory, such as experiments, but when it comes to large-scale exploration where we need to drive in one direction for five hours as before, for example, and still have the same performance as before, that is when we need terrain to test our projects.”

Some of the key experiments that will be carried out are the testing of the Aouda spacesuit, mapping techniques through sonic waves, a portable greenhouse that enables astronauts to grow crops on Mars, water extraction, and field tests of rovers that will be deployed planet side.

“We worked hard to get this going,” said Dr Alkhattab Al Hinai, vice chairman of Oman’s State Council, which has been spearheading Oman’s efforts to establish and coordinate the preparations for AMADEE-18. “The data that supported the Sultanate’s choice was the topography.

“This will help us highlight the scientific efforts in Oman and make the experiments as successful as possible,” he added. “This has been possible because of the leadership and cooperation of all the arms of our government under the guidance of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

“I also want to thank the Austrian Space Forum and Oman Astronomical Society, and all of our partners, including the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), The Research Council, PDO , Oman Broadband, Strabag Oman, Orpic and Schenker,” remarked Al Hinai.

Osama Al Busaidi, Deputy Chairman of the Oman Astronomical Society told ONA “The role of the Omani side is to provide the needs of the experience through communication with supporters of the institutions of the government and military sectors and private companies to start in a timely manner and to make logistical contacts with the participating parties to ensure that all these needs are provided within the premises.”

Oman Broadband’s Dr Majid Al Kharusi, who is also a member of the Oman Astronomical Society, noted, “This Mars mission in Oman will aid in the development of the next generation of the Sultanate. This analysis is very important in examining the future, and we are sure the simulation experiments for Mars will be a success. This will help Oman gain further knowledge and deeper information in terms of space exploration.

“I am pleased to announce that high school students from Izki, under supervision from the SQU, have had their experiment to search for water on Mars accepted by the OeWF, and I wish them all the best in this mission,” he added.

Gromer pointed out, “This is a safe, stable country, without any trouble for us as researchers, and this is one of the most important things you need for the advancement of society and science. There were other countries we had considered that also seemed suitable, but we could not afford to go there as it was too dangerous. There is not a single minute in Oman when we do not feel safe.”

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