Science & Technology

Argentine nature reserve to simulate conditions of life on Mars

By Javier Castro Bugarin

Buenos Aires, Apr 22 (EFE) – Los Colorados, a nature reserve located in the northwestern Argentine province of La Rioja, is a barren wasteland with irregular terrain and an intense red color due to high concentrations of iron on its surface – unique features that make the park an ideal setting for simulating the conditions of life on Mars.

That is the objective being pursued by the “Solar54” project, which aims to establish a scientific base in that region and ultimately bring the vision of colonizing the Red Planet closer to reality.

Once ready, that base will be the first of its kind in Latin America and the 11th worldwide, Ayelen Ebene, Solar54’s manager and director of innovation at FanIOT, a nanotechnology company based in the northeastern province of Misiones, told Efe.

“The setting of Los Colorados is one of the most similar to the surface of Mars (that there is) on Earth. That plays a very important role in (terms of) the whole psychological aspect of the people who would eventually be deployed to ‘Solar54,’ doing what are known as analogous missions: scientists who live in the Solar infrastructure for a certain period of time in isolation,” she said.

With assistance from La Rioja’s provincial government, Solar54’s goal is to install a system of mobile geodesic modules, or domes, over an approximately five-hectare (12-acre) area of the Los Colorados reserve.

In its first stage, to be completed by year’s end, Solar54 will make available to the scientific and aerospace community a total of six domes: three for laboratory tasks (plant research, nanosatellite development and mission control) and three others for daily living that are equipped with bedrooms, a kitchen-dining room and a recreation area.

“As with all analogous missions, we’re aiming for between 10 and 20 scientists who can live there in isolation for as long as they deem appropriate,” said Ebene, who highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of Mars colonization.

“Both the hard and soft sciences (natural and social sciences) have a key role to play in colonization, because sociology also comes into play: how that community of first residents will coexist, how they’ll perform their activities,” she added.

The leaders of Solar54 also envision the base as a magnet for scientific and technological research that attracts both university students and aerospace industry business leaders.

To that end, they presented the initiative at the Satellite 2022 fair last month in Washington DC and established contact with different aerospace agencies and manufacturers, including SpaceX.

Ebene said the project is part of the Argentine government’s plan to “federalize science and technology” by developing projects in provinces such as La Rioja that lack the same opportunities as other regions.

These scientific initiatives are going forward in spite of a socioeconomic crisis in Argentina that dates back to 2018.

“Science is not an expense or a luxury, but rather an investment. Progress rests on technological developments, and a country, a people or a province cannot be denied the opportunity to conduct science,” Ebene said, adding that she believes Solar54 will help to clear up all existing doubts about space exploration. EFE


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