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PALO ALTO, California -- NASA and the Mars Society are joining forces to build a Mars simulation expedition in a deep impact crater on Canada's Devon Island.
The crater, the size of West Virginia, is in Polar Bear country, near the Arctic Circle, and its harsh environment is the closest thing to Mars scientists have found on Earth.
While NASA has no current plans to send a human expedition toMars, the Mars Society is hoping that the research may persuade the space agency to change its mind.
"French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau made an underwater movie of the deep before he got funding for his deep sea projects," said Robert Zubrin, co-founder of the Mars Society and author of The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet. "This is our movie. We want to show people that ahuman expedition to Mars is not only possible but necessary."
NASA's objectives for the project are considerably less ambitious.
"We want to use the crater, which was created 23 million years ago, for research into all sorts of space exploration," said Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center.
Work on the US$1.2 million Mars Arctic Research Station will begin in the summerof 2000. The station will house six scientists, a workshop for all-terrain space vehicles, a solar panel array to provide power, even a small greenhouse where inhabitants can grow vegetables.
"The station will operate for four months of the year and will act as a test bed for life support equipment," said Zubrin. "It's also the ideal environment to train astronauts and conduct a research programon how to do science on Mars."
The Mars Society's charter is to further the exploration and settlement of Mars through both public and private means. It has an impressive list of scientists on its steering committee, including astronaut Lt. Col. Horowitz, author Kim Stanley Robinson, and Dr. Larry Lemke, chief of the advanced projects branch at NASA's Ames Research Center.
Zubrin is famous inthe space exploration community for his theories on how to recycle materials, especially fuel, in space.
He has devised a method whereby future Mars missions could manufacture fuel for their return to Earth by extracting from the Martian atmosphere carbon dioxide that can be mixed with hydrogen to produce methane and water. Oxygen could be extracted from the water, according to Zubrin, and combinedwith methane to produce rocket fuel. Far-fetched, perhaps, but the plan has gained a fair degree of credibility in the space exploration community.
The Mars Society hopes to prove that such strategies are possible with the Mars Arctic Research Station. The project, announced Friday, is the first instance of a private nonprofit organization funding a NASA project.
Zubrin said he and hissupporters plan to raise private money for the project. In its first month of fundraising, the Mars Society secured $150,000 in cash, plus the support of computer workstation manufacturer Silicon Graphics, telescope manufacturer Bushnell, and Fisher Space Pen, a small company that makes pressurized ink pens for astronauts.
But Zubrin acknowledged the project has a long way to go.
"The technology isthere, all we are lacking is the political commitment," said Zubrin.

PALO ALTO, California - La NASA y la Mars Society se unen para crear una simulación de expedición a Marte en un cráter de impacto profundo en la isla canadiense de Devon.
El cráter, del tamaño de Virginia Occidental, está en el país del oso polar, cerca del Círculo Ártico, y su duro entorno es lo más parecido a Marte hanencontrado los científicos en la Tierra.
Mientras que la NASA no tiene planes de enviar una expedición humana a Marte, la Mars Society es la esperanza de que la investigación puede persuadir a la agencia espacial para cambiar de opinión.
"Oceanógrafo francés Jacques Cousteau realizó una película bajo el agua de las profundidades antes de llegar los fondos para sus proyectos en aguas profundas", dijo...
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