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Or: Part two of a traveller´s report on selecting a test site for Mars simulations
I hope you enjoyed the first part of my blog, filled with personal insights of the scouting mission in Israel. Now, I would like to take you, at least through my writing, to Oman, the next stop on our scouting expedition, with the goal to find the test site for the AMADEE-18 Mars analog mission.
Two nights in Innsbruck are hardly enough to process all the impressions we got in Israel and compensate for the lack of sleep, but the excitement kicked in again on Thursday 16Mar2017, when Dr. Gernot Groemer and I left Austria and headed for the Sultanate of Oman. We arrived at around 2 AM at the airport in Muscat, the capital of Oman, where Dr. Saleh Al-Shidhani, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Oman Astronomical Society, was so kind as to welcome us and bring us to our hotel.
The next day, Dr. Al-Shidhani and his assistant Osama Al-Busaidi picked us up and we started with our scouting activities. Those led us through, even for Tyrolean standards, relatively high mountains (up to 1800m) on top of which we had a spectacular view. Despite enjoying the view, we were exploring the area on our quest for a test site which has no vegetation and no villages visible on the horizon. In case, Oman will be selected as the host country for AMADEE-18, we would have to make sure that our Field crew does not have the feeling of some neighbours from the next village watching them, as we will also look into the effects of isolation on humans. Between several flag-stops, we had time for a picnic at a very special place; we were surrounded by towers, assembled by stones. We even could crawl into one of them where Dr. Al-Shidhani told us that we were standing around an over 5000year old tomb. Although the outside temperature was 30°C, it was really chilly inside. After visiting the last stop in the mountains, we headed back for Muscat to catch some sleep before travelling south the following day.
On our way south, we covered several flag-stops, this time in very flat areas at the beginning of the desert. The longer we drove, the less villages and housings we encountered. From time to time, we passed by camels, owned by Bedouins, and Osama told me that camel races are very popular on the Arabian Peninsula. As we were driving a lot, Osama and I got to talk a lot and I really enjoyed learning about their culture and way of living. In return, I explained a lot about analog research, the Austrian Space Forum and the life in Austria (yes, I also mentioned snow and “Lederhosen”). We had not quite reached our destination in the south, on contrary we were in the middle of the desert, when the sun set and the night sky showed its mere beauty. No need to say that we stopped and took a break from driving, just to gaze at the stars. It was a combination of the tranquility, the stars watching over us and the overwhelmingly feeling of remoteness when I realized more than ever that after all, no matter where we are from or who we are; The sky is the same for all of us!
It was about time when we reached our Hotel in Haima, as it was already midnight and we were out of fuel. The next day started with a beautiful sunrise in the desert and was followed by a lot of oil fields with “donkey pumps”, as the locals call the oil pumps. Once we passed the oil pumps, there were not any signs of human beings any more, which is great for us. Now, the task was to find places where also rovers could be challenged with small hills and variety in the terrain. I guess one could say we are really picky when it comes to potential test sites for AMADEE-18, but we want to simulate many different aspects of Mars exploration. Therefore, we need to also take factors like the trafficability for rovers, geological variety or even the connectivity into account. The less reception the field crew has on their mobiles the better, as every communication between simulated Mars and Earth should be conducted via the 10min. time delayed channel.
We finished the scouting activity in the southern region of Oman with a delicious meal of mutton, which had been slowly cooked in an earth hole for several hours. That gave us enough energy to drive back to Muscat, where we arrived just in time to meet Alexander Soucek, head of our Legal Team, to update him on our findings.
The last day of our stay was reserved for several meetings. We visited for instance the Sultan Qaboos University, where we met scientists and potential partners, followed by an appointment at the University Hospital. Hospital visits are also part of the scouting expedition, as we have to prepare for every eventuality. Of course, we have our Medical Officers at the test site, but in case we need further medical assistance, we have to be sure whom to contact, where to go and what the chain of actions would be.
After the last meeting, we had a picnic at the sea, the perfect ending to our scouting mission after driving over 3000(!)km in three days, visiting many sites which would be suitable for analog research, meeting many potential partners for future collaborations and… star gazing. The AMADEE-18 leadership team has to take a tough decision now on where to conduct the next analog simulation mission. What will be the host country for AMADEE-18: Oman or Israel?
Author: Sophie Gruber, OeWF AMADEE-18 leadership team
This article is available in: German