In 2001 the Mars Society Australia carried out a study to select areas with Mars analogue research potential. Electronic discussion between members of the MSA highlighted a number of these, especially in South Australia and the Northern Territory. Sites were nominated on the basis of scientific relevance, range of terrain types, and visual resemblance to Mars. The two week long Jarntimarra-1 expedition in October-November of the same year visited these sites and evaluated them in terms of their Mars analogue potential.
The survey team filled in a database information sheet at each site, recording information of the site name, date visited, coordinates, ownership, access, risks, maps, geology, climate, flora/fauna, history, analogue value and references. These provided for factual entries in the Jarntimarra database. Comparative judgements with respect to MSA's specific needs were made on a separate assessment sheet with a list of 9 scientific, 8 engineering, 7 logistic, and 8 visual criteria.
The expedition noted that most of the assessed sites fell within the boundaries of only six 200-km diameter circles. These circles are equivalent to the area that could be easily explored of a simulated Mars base, given a vehicle capable of extended traverses. Each zone was rated on 5-point scale according to the above specific characteristics with engineering and science factors being given double weighting. Moon Plain, Woomera and Arkaroola regions achieved equal ranking as the most attractive sites.
Further examination led to the Arkaroola region in the North Flinders Ranges being selected because its international scientific reputation and history of Mars analogue research. Previous Specific Mars analogue research in the region has been three-fold, focusing on aeolian landforms, extremophiles, and remote sensing. Studies of aeolian landforms compared Martian dunes at Nili Petra with terrestrial dunes at Gurra Gurra Waterhole in the Strzelecki Desert. The extremophile work found radiation-resistant thermophiles in the Paralana hot spring which is characterised by high levels of radon gas. The area has been used in remote sensing experiments comparing hyperspectral imagery from the alteration halo surrounding the Mount Painter fossil hydrothermal system with ground truth from a hand-held spectrometer. This last study is particularly relevant to detecting the presence of such systems on Mars, which are believed to be good localities to search for microfossils. Potential Mars analogue geoscience research in the area may include palaeontology, geomorphology and regolith studies. The Proterozoic sediments of the area are known to host silicified microfossils and the sinters of the Mt. Gee fossil hydrothermal system show potential for microfossil preservation. Geomorphological and regolith studies include evolution of the alluvial fans on the eastern flank of the Flinders Ranges, nature of mound springs of Lake Frome, and landscape evolution of the northern Flinders Ranges, where uplift has led to partial exhumation and dissection of ancient land surfaces buried beneath Cretaceous cover. The finally, the area includes a wide range of surfaces, including boulder-strewn stream beds, gibber plains, salt lakes, sand dunes, gorges and very rugged hills.
An ideal site for the habitat was found on the gravel plains to the east of the Arkaroola zone's central point, between the eastern side of the northern Flinders Ranges and Lake Frome. This will allow easy access to sites in the Flinders Ranges proper and on the plains that surround Lake Frome. It will also simplify logistics, as a well-maintained, unsealed road runs up the eastern margin of the ranges, joining the Strzelecki Track to the north and the Barrier Highway to the south. The exact site will be decided upon during the Jarntimarra-2 expedition.
This paper outlines the process used by the Mars Society Australia (MSA) in selecting an area to construct MARS-OZ, the Australian Mars analogue research station. This process led to the selection of the Arkaroola region in the northern Flinders Ranges of South Australia as the prime site. The paper also outlines potential research that can be performed at MARS-OZ. The material is based largely on the MARS-OZ proposal document. Details of MARS-OZ can be found in Clarke (2002c).
OBJECTIVES FOR MARS-OZ
Why build Mars Analogue Research Stations?
The nature and rationale for Mars Analogue Research Stations (MARS) are found on the Mars Society’s web page (Mars Society, undated).
"In order to help develop key knowledge needed to prepare for human Mars exploration, and to inspire the public by making tangible the vision of human exploration of Mars, the Mars Society has initiated the Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) project. A global program of Mars exploration operations research, the MARS project will include four Mars base-like habitats located in deserts in the Canadian Arctic, the American southwest, the Australian outback, and Iceland. In these Mars-like environments, we will launch a program of extensive long-duration geology and biology field exploration operations conducted in the same style and under many of the same constraints as they would on the Red Planet. By doing so, we will start the process of learning how to explore on Mars.
"Mars Analog Research Stations are laboratories for learning how to live and work on another planet. Each is a prototype of a habitat that will land humans on Mars and serve as their main base for months of exploration in the harsh Martian environment…."
The MARS are designed to meet three specific goals. The same web site states these as:
MSA’s aim is to establish the MARS-OZ in the immediate future. It will operate in conjunction with three other MSA programs: the Rover with a unique utility configuration, the MARSskin analogue mechanical counter-pressure space suit, and the SAFMARS satellite communications system (Mars Society Australia 2001).
Assessment Criteria for Analogue Sites
There are numerous sites in Australia with Mars analogue value. Electronic discussion between members of the MSA revealed many of these in all Australian Sates. Sites were nominated on the basis of scientific interest, range of environments suitable for testing equipment, and visual resemblance to Mars. The most attractive sites were in central Australia, and most could be visited in a single 4WD trek. The purpose of the Jarntimarra-1 expedition was to visit and evaluate these sites in terms of their Mars analogue potential.
Evaluating the sites
The Jarntimarra-1 expedition (Mann et al. In press) spent two weeks in the field in October-November 2001 and visited a wide range of sites (Figure 1). These are listed in Table 1. The expedition route is shown in Figure 2. Every effort was made to obtain permission from the stakeholders, owners or custodians of the selected land before the visit took place, though in all cases the visits were non-intrusive.
FIGURE 1 - Jarntimarra-1 expedition on location at The Breakaways, Coober Pedy.
TABLE 1 - Sites visited during Jarntimarra-1
At each site the survey crew filled in a database information sheet. This was a set of 13 prompts for each field in the database: name, date, latitude/longitude, ownership, access, risks, maps, geology, climate, flora/fauna, history, analogue value and references. These provided for factual entries in the Jarntimarra database. To record comparative judgements with respect to the MSA's specific needs there was a separate assessment sheet with a list of 9 scientific and 8 engineering criteria, favouring sites that have intrinsic scientific value and offering a range of conditions in which to test analogue vehicles, spacesuits and other equipment. There was also a set of 7 logistical criteria relating to the distance from facilities and practical difficulty of operations and 8 visual criteria, reflecting the public relations requirement for the site to photograph as if it were the Martian surface (Table 2).
TABLE 2 - Ranking criteria for examined sites.
FIGURE 2 - Route of the Jarntimarra-1 expedition (from Mann et al. in press)
Selecting the regions
A number of key issues for MSA were resolved during a three-day conference at Arkaroola village at the end of Jarntimarra-1. The expedition found that most of the assessed sites fell within the boundaries of only six 200-km diameter circles (Figure 3). The significance of these exploration zones is that each specifies a set of features within easy reach of one simulated Mars mission, given a vehicle capable of extended traverses. If the centre of a circle represents a habitat landing site, all the features within that zone would be accessible by sorties of no more than 100km. Each of these six centres represents a possible "landing site" for MARS-OZ.
Based on the collective experience gained while filling in the site assessment sheets, each zone was rated on 5-point scale according to the above specific characteristics. Engineering and science scores then were doubled to reflect their importance relative to the other criteria in the total score. On this basis, the Moon Plain, Woomera and Arkaroola zones achieved equal ranking.
FIGURE 3 - The six prime regions selected during Jarntimarra-1 (after Mann et al. in press)
To support the goal of recommending a premier site for the 2002-2003 season, the tie was broken by considering the arguments of individual expedition members advocating each zone. Eventually the case for the Arkaroola region prevailed by virtue of its unique combination of logistical convenience (hospitable base at nearby Arkaroola village; 8 hours road travel from Adelaide; 1200m all-weather airstrip at Balcanoona), international scientific reputation and Mars-like geology. Specific Mars analogue research in the region has been three-fold, focusing on aeolian landforms, extremophiles, and remote sensing. Studies of aeolian landforms compared Martian dunes at Nili Petra with terrestrial dunes at Gurra Gurra Waterhole in the Strzelecki Desert (Bishop 1999, 2001). The extremophile work found radiation-resistant thermophiles in the Paralana hot spring which is characterised by high levels of radon gas (Anitori et al. 2001, now in press in Astrobiology). The area has been used in remote sensing experiments comparing hyperspectral infrared imagery from the alteration halo surrounding the Mount Painter fossil hydrothermal system with ground truth from a hand-held spectrometer (Thomas 2001). This last study is particularly relevant to detecting the presence of such systems on Mars, which are believed to be good localities to search for microfossils. Potential Mars analogue geoscience research in the area may include palaeontology, geomorphology and regolith studies. The Proterozoic sediments of the area are known to host silicified microfossils and the sinters of the Mt. Gee fossil hydrothermal system show potential for microfossil preservation. Geomorphological and regolith studies include evolution of the alluvial fans on the eastern flank of the Flinders Ranges, nature of mound springs of Lake Frome, and landscape evolution of the northern Flinders Ranges, where uplift has led to partial exhumation and dissection of ancient land surfaces buried beneath Cretaceous cover. The finally, the area includes a wide range of surfaces, including boulder-strewn stream beds, gibber plains, salt lakes, sand dunes, gorges and very rugged hills.
An ideal site for the habitat was found on the gravel plains to the east of Arkaroola (Figure 4), between the eastern side of the northern Flinders Ranges and Lake Frome. This will allow easy access to sites in the Flinders Ranges proper and on the plains that surround Lake Frome. It will also simplify logistics, as a well-maintained, unsealed road runs up the eastern margin of the ranges, joining the Strzelecki Track to the north and the Barrier Highway to the south. The exact site for MARS-OZ will be decided upon during a further expedition (Jarntimarra-2) which will include discussion with the land holders.
FIGURE 4 - Rocky alluvial outwash from the Flinders Ranges (background), east of Arkaroola. This landscape is typical of the likely site for MARS-OZ.
THE NATURE OF ANALOGUE RESEARCH
The purpose of Mars analogue research is illustrated by a further quote from the Mars Society web page (Mars Society, undated) which describes the operational philosophy of MARS:
"Each station will serve as a field base to teams of four to six crew members: geologists, astrobiologists, engineers, mechanics, physicians and others, who [will] live for weeks to months at a time in relative isolation in a Mars analog environment. Mars analogs can be defined as locations on Earth where some environmental conditions, geologic features, biological attributes or combinations thereof may approximate in some specific way those thought to be encountered on Mars, either at present or earlier in that planet's history. Studying such sites leads to new insights into the nature and evolution of Mars, the Earth, and life.
"However, in addition to providing scientific insight into our neighboring world, such analog environments offer unprecedented opportunities to carry out Mars analog field research in a variety of key scientific and engineering disciplines that will help prepare humans for the exploration of that planet. Such research is vitally necessary. For example, it is one thing to walk around a factory test area in a new spacesuit prototype and show that a wearer can pick up a wrench - it is entirely another to subject that same suit to two months of real field work. Similarly, psychological studies of human factors issues, including isolation and habitat architecture are also only useful if the crew being studied is attempting to do real work."
Such work is always analogue in nature, Earth is not Mars. As Boucher (2002) writes:
"Mars analogs are sites on the Earth where environmental conditions, geologic features, biological attributes, or combinations thereof approximate in some specific way those possibly encountered on Mars at present or earlier in that planet's history. No place on Earth is truly like Mars. Although Mars can be characterized at present as a cold desert, not even the polar deserts of the Earth achieve the extremes in minimum temperature, dryness, low atmospheric pressure and harsh radiation conditions that the surface of Mars currently experiences. Many aspects of the geologic and potential biologic evolution of Mars are likely to have been different or remain uncertain enough that any comparison with the Earth must be conducted with caution. The Earth, however, is our home planet and a world presenting a broad diversity of environments, geologic features and biology. It provides an important reference for studying other planets, a basis for conducting comparative studies critically. "Mars analogs", therefore, are not to be equated to any counterpart on Mars, but are to be viewed instead as an opportunity on our planet for possible approximations."
Bearing these principles in mind, research carried out at MARS-OZ is envisaged to focus on, but will not be confined to, four main areas. These are engineering, science, environmental systems, data management, and human factors. At this stage the research projects are tentative only, indicating more the range of possibilities rather than the final detailed studies. Nor are these projects necessarily concurrent, as MARS-OZ has a provisional working life of at least 5 years.
There are at least four major topics for engineering research. The diverse landscape of the Arkaroola region allows these topics to be explored in a wide range of terrains.
FIGURE 5 - Haematitic hydrothermal silica deposits at Mount Gee.
FIGURE 6 - The radioactive Paralana hot spring, an extremophile habitat.
We believe that a useful method of carrying out research in MARS-OZ is the use of honours students. Most honours projects in the biological sciences can be completed in a 2-6 week field period, which fits in well with the 1-2 month crew rotation of FMARS and MDRS. Furthermore, honours theses are completed within 12 months, which opens the way for rapid publication of results. Supervisors of honours students can carry out longer-term research projects associated with MARS-OZ, and I suggest that individual projects be components of larger research programs coordinated by senior researchers. Visiting researchers from overseas should also be welcome participants.
Jarntimarra-1 proved an outreach success. Numerous radio, television and print interviews were performed by participants during the expedition, which was covered in Australia and internationally. There have also been a number of follow up stories in a range of media outlets subsequently. The profile of the Mars Society was significantly raised, new members were recruited, and the Australian community introduced to the concept of analogue research.
Construction and deployment of MARS-OZ will be another opportunity for outreach. MDRS formed the cornerstone of a display at the Kennedy Space Center. E-MARS is currently open to public display at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. MARS-OZ could likewise serve an education role during it construction. Because the MARS-OZ concept is more mobile than that of MDRS and E-MARS, it may be possible to transport the complex round the country and use it for education and outreach in different localities.
Arkaroola Resort has a long history of educational-related tourism, including geological, environmental, and astronomical themes. The MARS-OZ complex would complement these very well, highlighting another aspect of the scientific significance of the region. Ideally, a visitor centre would be constructed at Arkaroola Report, this would build a relationship with the operators educate the public, and allow the public to follow activities in the complex. The resort could also control visitors to the site.
The Jarntimarra-1 expedition reviewed a diversity of Mars analogue sites in central Australia and identified the Arkaroola region in the northern Flinders Ranges as the one most suitable for the initial siting of MARS-OZ. Final site selection will require a separate expedition, Jarntimarra-2. Once MARS-OZ is completed (Figure 7), it will provide a platform for a wide range of analogue research in fields as diverse as engineering, biology, geology, human factors, environmental systems, and information management.
FIGURE 7 - View of the completed MARS-OZ facility. "Artwork by Jozef Michalek.
We would like to thank the entire Jarntimarra-1 team who were involved in the site selection process. Without them this paper would not have been possible. The expedition was funded largely by the generous support of Starchaser Industries Ltd. We would also like to thank the artistic vision of Jozef Michalek in producing Figure 7 and the staff of the Arkaroola resort, especially the Sprigg family.
Anitori, R.P., et. al. 2001. 'Radon-tolerant microbes from Paralana thermal spring, South Australia', Abstracts Astrobiology Workshop 12-13th July, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia.
Bishop, M.A. 1999. Comparative geomorphology of seasonally active crescentic dunes: Nili Petra, Mars and Strzelecki Desert, Earth. Fifth International Conference on Mars Abstract #6069. LPI Contribution 972, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston.
Bishop, M.A. 2001. Seasonal Variation of Crescentic Dune Morphology and Morphometry, Strzelecki-Simpson Desert, Australia. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 26, pp.783-791.
Clarke, J. D. A. 2002c. MARS-OZ: A Technical Description. AMEC 2002 (this volume).
Cooper, H. R. 1977. A house in space. Panther, London.
Coats, R. P. and Blissett, A. H. 1971. Regional and economic geology of the Mount Painter province. Geological Survey of South Australia Bulletin 43.
Mann, G. A., Clarke, J. D. A., and Gostin, V. A. In press. Surveying for Mars Analogue Research Sites in the Central Australian Deserts. Australian Geographer.
Mars Society. Undated. Arctic Research Station web page: Project background to the Flashline Arctic Research Station http://arctic.marssociety.org/about/background.html
Mars Society Australia 2001. Technical projects overview (Operation Red Centre) http://marssociety.org.au/
Sprigg, R. C. 1984. Arkaroola-Mount Painter in the northern Flinders Ranges, SA: the last billion years. Lutheran Publishing house, Adelaide
Thomas, M. 2001. Hyperspectral Analysis of a Hydrothermal System at Mount Painter, Flinders Ranges, (and application to Martian analogues). Abstracts Astrobiology Workshop, Macquarie University, July11th, 2001. http://www.aao.gov.au/local/www/jab/mthomas.html