Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto and Hugh Gregory collect rocks outside the Mars Desert Research Station during a previous Mars simulation mission in Hanksville, Utah. A new crew of six is set to begin a new mission this month. Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto and Hugh Gregory collect rocks outside the Mars Desert Research Station during a previous Mars simulation mission in Hanksville, Utah. A new crew of six is set to begin a new mission this month. Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto and Hugh Gregory collect rocks outside the Mars Desert Research Station during a previous Mars simulation mission in Hanksville, Utah. A new crew of six is set to begin a new mission this month. (Photo: George Frey/Getty Images)

To prepare for life on Mars, astronauts are going to ... Utah?

Researchers will spend 2 weeks in an isolated capsule in the desert to simulate life on the Red Planet.

This is the true story of six scientists, picked to live in a capsule in the middle of the Utah desert, work together and have their lives studied, to find out what happens when people stop being Earthlings and start being Martians.

While it's too soon to say whether the crew of a certain long-running MTV reality show will make Mars its next setting, one thing's for certain: if humans are really going to live on the Red Planet one day, we need to know exactly how that's going to look. That's where Team PRIMA 173 comes in. It's a group of six highly qualified scientists, engineers, artists and leadership experts from around the world. Among the crew: Michaela Musilova, an astrobiologist from Slovakia; Arnau Pons, an aeronautical engineer from Spain; Roy Naor, a graduate student in planetary geology from Israel; and Niamh Shaw, an artist and journalist from Ireland.

They've all been selected by the Mars Society to take part in a scientific simulation project at the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah.

While aboard the station, the so-called simulated astronauts will embark on several projects, not the least of which is to study the psychological consequences of living in close containment millions of miles from Earth. They're also going to learn how to grow Martian food, build infrastructure using 3D printing, study Martian geology and build enthusiasm for Mars through art.

The Mars Desert Research Station sits several miles northwest of Hanksville, Utah. The research station is sponsored by the Mars Society and is used for scientific research and practice for a manned mission to Mars in the future. The Mars Desert Research Station sits several miles northwest of Hanksville, Utah. The research station is sponsored by the Mars Society and is used for scientific research and practice for a manned mission to Mars in the future. (Photo: George Frey/Getty Images)

Throughout their work, the scientists will be confined to the capsule, which will look and feel as close to an actual Mars habitat as possible. That means, in short, that quarters will be tight, outside conditions will be extreme, privacy and hygiene will be at a premium, and the team of six will most likely learn a lot more about each other than they do now.

For his part, Naor, a graduate student in Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science, comes to the mission with plenty of experience. When carbonate materials were found on Mars, he studied whether that meant there was evidence of water on the planet – which might mean that life could be sustained there.

Roy Naor is a planetary geologist from Israel who currently researches environments on Mars.Roy Naor is a planetary geologist from Israel who currently researches environments on Mars. (Photo: Mars Mission 173)

“Carbonates need flowing water to form, and if we can show that water once existed for a long period of time there, we lend support to the idea that life could once have arisen on Mars,” Naor said.

The team will board the station Jan. 14 and will remain there for two weeks. The Prima Crew 173 website will be updating the team's progress throughout the mission.

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