A Mars mission in the Austrian Alps

Baku, August 10, AZERTAC

A glacier in Austria with striking similarities to the Red Planet offers just the right conditions for space explorers to train for a mission to Mars, according to dpa.

In Austria's Kaunertal valley, donning shiny spacesuits weighing nearly 50 kilogrammes, Carmen Koehler and Inigo Munoz Elorza are doing just that.

In their first "Mars walk" in the Austrian Alps this week, the German meteorologist and Spanish space technology expert simulated for the first time how astronauts would cope with the icy environment on the Red Planet.

"Bending down and getting up again is difficult," Koehler said.

She and Munoz are part of the training and research mission being conducted this month by the Austrian Space Forum's network of researchers.

As expedition leader Gernot Groemer explained, the water present on Mars' surface around 3 million years ago has since turned into block glaciers, or ice beneath a surface of rock or sand.

At an altitude of 2,700 metres, the Kaunertal glacier offers "ideal conditions" with the same combination of rubble and ice, Groemer said.

Some 100 scientists and staff from 19 countries are spending two weeks there to practice work routines and communications and to conduct a dozen experiments in fields such as robotics, medicine and geoscience.

Koehler, Munoz and six other so-called analogue astronauts are at the centre of this Mars simulation. The small team has trained wearing space suits for five months.

A manned trip to Mars presents significant technological challenges, and the Austrian Space Forum estimates that it will take another 20 to 30 years before astronauts can be sent on the trip to Mars.

A Mars mission is expected to last 1,000 days, with half of the time devoted to the actual trip, and the other half spent on the planet.

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