Chile’s Atacama desert to be simulator for Mars mission


Santiago : Scientists from Chile and other countries will build a base in the Atacama desert, the most arid in the world, with the aim of simulating a space colony, along with mobile rocket launch pads and greenhouses as if the site were on the planet Mars, a media report said.

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The Moon-Mars Research Center, a scientific, technological and tourist complex, is to be located in an area recognised by the international scientific community as one of the spots on Earth with the most Mars-like conditions, including extreme solar radiation and temperatures, low humidity and strong winds, the El Mercurio newspaper said.

The base will be erected in the Chajnantor plains, located 55 km east of the town of San Pedro de Atacama, at an altitude of 5,150 meters and some 1,650 km northeast of Santiago.

The European Southern Observatory, or ESO, is building – along with its international partners – the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, a top-of-the-line telescope, at the site to study the light from some of the coldest objects in the universe.

Experts have had earlier experiences simulating Mars-like conditions in Utah and on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic, said Carmen Gloria Jimenez, a University of Antofagasta professor and one of the Chilean coordinators of the project.

Next year, the team will build the first laboratories using the fuselages of Hercules aircraft, and there they will study microorganisms known as extremophiles, among others, which have survived at least 26,000 years in volcanoes, salt beds and nearby lakes, including Licancabur and Ascotan, she said.

NASA, the Mars Society, the SETI institute, the Chinese space agency and more than 40 companies that are providing services to the US research and space programme are participating in the project.

In March, a delegation from the Chinese space agency will visit the area, and they project that by around 2020 they will have below-ground bases on the Moon to extract minerals, a project official said.

In April, a group from NASA will arrive at Chajnantor, which is very dry and too barren for human life, but excellent for the pursuit of submillimeter astronomy.