Australia Mars Analogue Research Station (MARS-Oz) is a station in Australia where the Mars Society will conduct geological exploration under constraints similar to those found on Mars. In 1998, the United States Mars Society agreed to work with Mars Society Australia, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the eventual human settlement on the Red Planet, which allowed this project to be administrated in Australia. Led by project manager David Willson, this will be the fourth Mars Analogue Research Station Program. The three previous stations were built in Devon Island in Arctic Canada in July 2000, a desert near Hanksville, Utah, and the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. The main objective behind the research is to anticipate and resolve conflicts that will arise on a Martian exploration by having a group of scientists and engineers work together and live in an analogue Mars environment.
There are three types of research missions: missions of discovery, missions of opportunity, and missions of investigation. A mission of discovery involves simulating life on a Martian environment to uncover unanticipated problems. The mission of opportunity focuses on the technological aspect of life on Mars. Engineers and scientists use their knowledge and data to find solutions for specific situations. One example of a mission of opportunity is testing new technologies. The mission of investigation tests the tools and approaches needed to carry out exploration of Mars; it focuses on the main conflicts that have been anticipated. When simulating a crisis, the plan is to isolate the situation and limit the elements that play a role. In any situation, there will be many minor elements that cannot all be accounted for. The simulated explorations allow these minor details to be uncovered and fixed.
Australia has many sites that parallel the Martian landscape. Springs, channels, and dry land are the geographical features the Mars Society Australia searched for. To find sites, an expedition crew drove out to different areas in Australia carefully examining the different environments. Abandoned landscapes were found which resembled the constraints that would have to be dealt with on Mars. For example, the curvature of the Dalhousie and Strangways mound springs resemble the springs created by volcanic and tectonic fissures on Mars. Also, the Henbury craters resemble Martian craters; the Henbury craters have internal swamps and on Mars, there are signs of water seepage in the craters.
There are 15 possible sites that may be used in Australia. These include Woomera, the Sturt Ranges, the Simpson Desert, the South Lake Eyre Basin, the Sturt Stony Desert, the Strzelecki Desert, and the North Flinders Ranges. The main base is projected to be placed next to Arkaroola. These sites will help with understanding the environments that will be available upon an exploration.
The recommended crew consists of mainly engineers that have knowledge in multiple fields. They will have many skills including piloting, life-support, mechanical training, and other specialties. Two medical doctors will also be out in the field. Their role will be to care for the well-being of the crew as well as to conduct biological research. The doctors will have training in psychiatry to manage any psychological problems that arise. The overall idea is that each person will have expertise in many fields because only eight people can be transported to Mars.
Conflicts unrelated to geology and the mechanics of the mission will occur. The fields of expertise needed for a successful mission is still unknown; along with this, a language barrier is a common conflict when gathering a crew. Also, space is an environment naturally unfamiliar to humans; certain health issues will arise. For instance, humans lose much of their strength and bone density when they live in space because of the microgravity environment. Other health concerns include space sickness and loss of blood pressure. There will need to be a solution to accommodate for the inhabitants' health when on Mars, and the sites in Australia will help with understanding the resources that will be available for inhabitants to remain healthy.
The Mars Society is not a national space agency. Most of the funding that they receive is from donations. As such, the MARS-Oz program is waiting for more support before the mock geological exploration can take place.