FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
8 MARCH 2012 — Next month a crew of explorers including four Kiwis heads off to spend two weeks on Mars, the Red Planet.
Instead of blasting off from Earth however, the crew – participants in "KiwiMars 2012" – will boldly go only as far as a remote spot in the Utah desert, where a mock Mars base will become their home.
"The Mars Desert Research Station is a unique place, with an environment that closely approximates the surface of Mars," said Mission Commander Haritina Mogosanu. "The six of us will live, eat and work in exactly the same way as early explorers to the red planet will do, even wearing spacesuits when we go outside the crew habitat – 'the Hab'."
The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) was created ten years ago by the Mars Society, a global organisation dedicated to promoting and exploring the concept of settling the red planet. Just ten metres in diameter, the two-storey cylindrical Hab houses a laboratory, airlock, sleeping quarters, kitchen, and recreation area. Nearby is an observatory for scanning the clear dark skies above the Utah desert, and a greenhouse.
"It's a fantastic analogue for Mars. I was just in awe of the landscape, the desolation, and the sheer resemblance to images we've seen of the Martian surface," said Commander Mogosanu who went there last year as part of a Romanian crew. "Living together in a tin can for two weeks, wearing bulky spacesuits, and eating dehydrated astronauts' food from NASA was quite a challenge, even if we were still on the home planet!"
While at MDRS the crew will undertake various experiments in the fields of geology, biology, nutrition, astronomy, and biosecurity, and the knowledge and experience will directly benefit New Zealand students.
"To be effective, education needs inspiration," said Haritina Mogosanu, who is also the Education Coordinator for KiwiSpace. "Our expedition to the MDRS is an open invitation to everyone to join us in a scientific adventure to one of the closest places on Earth to Mars. KiwiMars's main goal is to use space as the 'hook' to produce educational resources for the New Zealand curriculum."
The crew will have the support of Mission Control Carter (MCC), based at Wellington's Carter Observatory. MCC will be open from 23 April and run until 4 May (NZ-time).
"As mission control for KiwiMars, Carter Observatory will be offering numerous opportunities for visiting schools and the public to interact with the crew, to hear about the mission and find out more about Mars itself," says Carter Observatory's Head of Education and Public Programmes, Dr Claire Bretherton. "The planet Mars has always been the subject of awe and wonder for humans here on Earth. The KiwiMars Mission provides a wonderful opportunity to capture this curiosity around the Red Planet, to engage the public and inspire them to share the Mars experience."
Commander Mogosanu added, "When we return we will have documentary footage, hundreds of photographs, research results, and all the experience with which we can create educational resources to support the 'Earth, Space and Beyond' component of the New Zealand science curriculum."
KiwiMars 2012 begins its mission at the MDRS on 21 April. Meanwhile, the public can learn all about the mission, and more about Mars at Carter Observatory, where a special presentation will be given on the evening of 21 March, exactly one month before "lift-off".
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