In Oman desert, European venture sets sights on Mars

1 / 4
Analog astronaut Joao Lousada (C) hands his colleague Kartik Kumar a drone while two Omani men watching in front of the Mars simulation base camp in the Dhofar desert of Oman. The desolate desert in southern Oman resembles Mars so much that more than 200 scientists from 25 nations organized by the Austrian Space Forum are using it for the next four weeks to field-test technology for a manned mission to Mars. (AP)
2 / 4
Members of the AMADEE-18 Mars simulation mission ride all-terrain vehicles while wearing spacesuits during an analog field simulation in Oman’s Dhofar desert, in a collaboration between the Austrian Space Forum and the Oman National Steering Comittee preparing for future human Mars missions. (AFP)
3 / 4
Two scientists test space suits and a geo-radar for use in a future Mars mission in the Dhofar desert of southern Oman. (AP)
4 / 4
A 2.4-ton inflated habitat used by the AMADEE-18 Mars simulation in the Dhofar desert of southern Oman. (AP)
Updated 08 February 2018

In Oman desert, European venture sets sights on Mars

DHOFAR, Oman: Would-be astronauts in aluminum-coated suits venture out in rovers from a sprawling camp in Oman’s barren desert: a simulation by a European venture aiming to one day help humans survive on Mars.
Behind a barbed wire fence protected by soldiers from the Gulf sultanate, researchers in prefab facilities work away on experiments that include trying to grow vegetables in inhospitable terrain chosen for its resemblance to the red planet.
Run by the Austrian Space Forum, a mainly volunteer collective, with the backing of the Omani government, the AMADEE-18 Mars Analog Mission has brought together researchers, inventors, space professionals and enthusiasts.
For decades the realm of science fiction, sending a manned mission to Mars is now the stated — albeit still distant — goal of the US government and entrepreneurs.
On Tuesday US billionaire Elon Musk launched the world’s most powerful rocket — the SpaceX Falcon Heavy — toward an orbit near Mars.
In this remote corner of the Arabian Peninsula’s Dhofar desert, the European-led project may be far less flashy — but it is still looking to answer major questions.
“Once we go to Mars, and stay on Mars, we will have to use the resources we find on Mars because we cannot bring everything from Earth,” forum president Alexander Soucek said.
“So we have to use the things we find there: first of all to sustain life there, to sustain missions there, and then in the longer run maybe also for other things.”
The Austrian Space Forum does not have a rocket like Musk, but its members — many with day jobs at traditional space agencies or private companies — share the entrepreneur’s drive to be innovative.
In the increasingly crowded field of space exploration, Soucek says the project is carving out a special niche with its Mars simulations.
“We get sponsors from private industry. We collect money, partnerships, invite people to join forces,” he said.
Volunteer researcher Joao Lousada was struggling into a pressure-simulating exoskeleton suit with the help of three technicians.
Weighing more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds), it is custom-built to simulate the constricted movement astronauts would feel on Mars — and takes a gruelling hours-long process just to put on.
Like the other volunteers he watched the Falcon Heavy launch with awe, but he said there were serious issues about the commercialization of space.
“You can’t claim the moon, you can’t claim asteroids so mining comes into a bit of a legal loophole,” Lousada said.
“But... I think it’s a very interesting idea. I think definitely we should look into using resources from asteroids that are not available on Earth or are less frequent on Earth.”
Once suited up, Lousada and fellow researcher Kartik Kumar mounted rovers and rode off under the blazing sun to complete their set of experiments in the desert.
Returning before dusk, Kumar — an expert on space debris — reflected on the role and responsibility of space voyagers.
“We should never forget that as we explore our own planet and the solar system we have to do it responsibly and ethically,” said Kumar.
Since 2015, the United States and Luxembourg have moved to the forefront of what has been dubbed the new space race, creating legal frameworks that could eventually allow mining in space.
The European Union has yet to take a position, as its members are on vastly different pages over the controversial topic.
“Can you just go there and take resources or not?” Soucek said.
“There are a few things you have to sort out from technical and economic and also political point of view. But as always in space, today it’s science fiction. Tomorrow, perhaps reality.”


Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan targeted by new rape complaint

Updated 5 min 38 sec ago

Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan targeted by new rape complaint

  • A woman in her 50s accused Ramadan of raping her along with a member of his staff
  • He has been charged in France with raping two women previously

PARIS: Tariq Ramadan, a leading Islamic scholar charged in France with raping two women, has also been accused of taking part in the gang rape of a journalist, French judicial sources said Sunday.
The sources confirmed reports on Europe 1 radio and in Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper that a woman in her 50s had accused Ramadan, 56, of raping her along with a member of his staff when she went to interview the academic at a hotel in Lyon in May 2014.
The woman, who filed a criminal complaint in May 2019, also accused Ramadan of issuing “threats or acts of intimidation” aimed at dissuading her from reporting the alleged attack to the police, the judicial sources added.
Ramadan, a married father of four whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, was a professor at Oxford University until he was forced to take leave when rape allegations surfaced at the height of the “Me Too” movement in late 2017.
He has denied charges he raped a disabled woman in 2009 and a feminist activist in 2012.
He was taken into custody in February 2018 and held for nine months before being granted bail.
Authorities in Switzerland are also investigating him after receiving a rape complaint in that country.
His lawyer, Emmanuel Marsigny, refused to comment Sunday on the latest allegations against him in France.
The woman behind the latest complaint told police that Ramadan and a male assistant repeatedly raped her in Ramadan’s room at the Sofitel hotel in Lyon.
She described the alleged attack as being of “untold violence” and claimed that when she threatened to report them to the police Ramadan replied: “You don’t know how powerful I am.”
She also claimed that Ramadan had contacted her via the Messenger app in January, two months after his release from jail, saying that he wanted to make her an “offer” of a “professional nature,” without giving details.