The exploration of the planet Mars has found in the deserts of Morocco a perfect test bed to test remote-controlled robots, space vehicles and astronaut suits that will soon be used for the exploration of the red planet.
To the south of the chain of the Atlas huge empty extensions are opened that by their geology and their morphology resemble enough to what until now is known of the planet Mars, as it explains to Efe the professor Kamal Tajeddine, professor of Geology in the University Cadi Ayyad of Marrakech.
At the head of the Ibn Batuta Center and in coordination with the European Europlanet program, Tajeddine coordinates different space research missions from Morocco for more than ten years, almost all based on the regions south of the Atlas, generally stony and far from the topical idea of the chains of dunes.
It is true – acknowledges Tajeddine – that there are other African countries with more or less similar deserts (Algeria, Ethiopia or Botswana), but Morocco has several important extra-scientific factors, starting with security: as Efe has been able to verify, the Royal Gendarmerie protects remote to the investigative teams and does not allow the entry of intruders.
To this is added the political stability of the country and the existence of a highly developed hotel infrastructure with fast access to the internet, which is fundamental for the research teams to download their work at the end of a day under the sun and the wind.
The last experiment, developed in early December, consisted of testing the autonomy of the astronaut named Sherpa TT, a robot with wheels that resembles a spider by its articulated arms and that had to demonstrate at the same time its ability to follow orders and improvise an own action if in its way it finds a scientific objective.
Under the watchful eye of the scientists, the robot (two meters long by two wide for its 200 kilos) walked through the plateaus of Gari Medwar, in the Erfud region, and was able to autonomously take pictures of objects (stones, small plants and any other type of accident) in its 360 meters.
The Sherpa TT is a laboratory prototype, not real, as it is not isolated against radiation nor designed against extreme temperatures, as Jorge Ocón, Spanish representative in this project funded by the European Commission, clarified.
Another of the most striking experiments carried out in the same region was the one undertaken by the Austrian Space Forum of the University of Innsbruck, which in 2013 put ten astronauts to test for a month their heavy space uniforms with which they will theoretically have that move the first men to reach Mars.
Each of the ten cosmonauts "lived" an average of three hours a day – sometimes up to five – in the heavy suits, while their behavior was monitored by a team composed of doctors, specialized mechanics and telecommunications technicians.
In that experiment, like the last one of the astromobile, the technicians work with the "delay effect", that is, they take into account the reality of the current distance between Earth and Mars, which makes the signals that are sent from our Planet, even under optimal conditions, reach the red planet with a lag of just over twenty minutes.
What has not been tested so far is an atmosphere similar to that of Mars, where air is mainly composed of carbon dioxide, and therefore all tests have an artificial component that may be resolved over the years . And it is that the space explorations still have a long way to go. In the Moroccan desert, the Berbers will continue to receive them with open arms, since they represent a very special kind of tourism, which is ultimately one of the few sources of income in the area.
It is not known if it is a mere coincidence or a sign of the Space Gods, but Morocco is also a land where an unusual amount of meteorite falls is recorded. Everything justifies that the race to space begins in the confines of the Sahara.