Inside an otherworldly mission to prepare humans for Mars

Crew members Gernot Grömer and João Lousada stand inside the habitat module of Kepler Station, the temporary base for a simulated Mars mission called AMADEE-18.

On an average day, you might find Kartik Kumar in the Netherlands, where he’s finishing up his Ph.D. in aerospace engineering at Delft University of Technology or tending to his startup company. But in February 2018, Kumar was standing on the surface of Mars.

Well, almost. After intensive training, Kumar became one of six “analog astronauts” who volunteered for a month-long simulated mission to the red planet called AMADEE-18. The project’s main goal: to test the tools, procedures, and mental and physical challenges that a real future Mars mission might face.

The more weak points the team can identify, the better. Screwing up on Earth is nothing compared to screwing up on Mars, a frozen desert with unbreathable air that swirls with toxic dust. Even the smallest mistake there could be lethal.