AMADEE-20: Israel-based Mars analog mission ends after 3 weeks

The mission was the latest Mars analog mission launched by the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF), held in partnership with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and the D-MARS habitat.

NASA's Mars Helicopter a small autonomous rotorcraft in this artist rendition (photo credit: REUTERS)
NASA's Mars Helicopter a small autonomous rotorcraft in this artist rendition
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The three-week-long Mars analog mission in Mitzpe Ramon concluded on Sunday as the six analog astronauts left their AMADEE-20 habitat for the first time without spacesuit simulators.

The mission, AMADEE-20, was the latest Mars analog mission launched by the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) held in partnership with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and the D-MARS habitat.

The mission focused on getting the analog astronauts into character, simulating the experience of being on the Red Planet. The six analog astronauts — from Portugal, Israel, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain — were fully isolated in order to simulate being in such a habitat on Mars, and remained in contact with a mission control group in Austria.

The habitat had an airlock, and the analog astronauts were required to wear spacesuits when exiting it for any experiments, just as they would have to do on Mars.

“If you feel the Martian atmosphere on Mars, you’re probably dead,” said Sophie Gruber of the AMADEE-20 leadership team when the mission began. “We don’t want to simulate the atmosphere, because exposure to it wouldn’t happen without dying and is [therefore] irrelevant.”

Many experiments were carried out during the mission, such as simulating the psychological experience of being isolated in this habitat.

“We’ve had a mission that combines isolation and the psychological burden that that implies, with very advanced technologies on the (virtual learning environments) for spacewalks,” mission second-in-command Iñigo Muñoz-Elorza told the Spanish-language news agency Agencia EFE after leaving the habitat.

“Our spacesuit simulator is one of the most advanced for analogous missions and we’ve also had the support of several rovers and drones to fly around and to be able to make a progressive map of the zone around the habitat, where we then did some science.”

The mission’s experiments also focused on testing the equipment, to see what could happen in an actual mission to Mars.

“This kind of mission is important because it allows us to test the equipment, the experiments and procedures that we want to use one day on Mars, to find out beforehand here on Earth all the problems, all the things that could go wrong, before sending our missions to Mars,” mission commander Joao Lousada told EFE.

But many other experiments were focused on being able to search for life on Mars.

This has been a major focus of recent missions to the Red Planet, so called because of the iron oxide found on its surface. In fact, the search for life is among the primary goals of NASA’s recently launched Perseverance rover and Ingenuity Mars helicopter.

At first glance, this may seem confusing, because while the existence of signs of life on Mars is questionable, its presence in the Ramon Crater has never been in dispute. But that is precisely the reason this site was chosen.

“We have dedicated an exploration cascade fixating on the sequence of the experiment and data flow to make sure that if we look in the particular spot in the desert, we can make sure we don’t miss anything,” Gruber had said. “We start with remote viewing from satellites; then we send drones and rovers and finally, our astronauts.

“We make sure we’ve investigated it so well that we know everything about it. By using a place like the Ramon Crater, which is so well studied, as our analog, we can see how well our strategy worked by comparing our data to the data that’s already known.”

The last week of the mission focused on experiments that needed more data, such as the MEROP experiment which saw the analog astronauts steering the Mercator Rover from the habitat, as well as remote exploration missions done by Exra-Vehicular Activities (EVAs).

The participating agencies and analog astronauts celebrated the mission’s conclusion on social media.

The OeWF Mission Support Center shared a video of them on Twitter, signing off after the mission’s completion.

The exit of the analog astronauts from their habitat was shared online by the ISA, with the caption “mission accomplished!”

But while the simulation itself is over, the scientific work has just begun as experts analyze and interpret the data gathered from the experiment and then publish the results.

The first results from the mission will be presented at the AMADEE-20 Science Workshop, set for next spring.

“It was again an incredibly inspiring experience to manage such a Mars simulation with all the voluntary, motivated, well-prepared, trained and dedicated team members,” the OeWF said in a statement. “When people are on fire for something, they make a hell of a lot of difference with their passion!”