Anyone who’s been to Iceland knows how easy it is to imagine you’re traversing the surface of another planet, but now the other-worldly land will actually be helping NASA prepare for its first manned mission to Mars.

NASA plans to send men to Mars in 2030, and they’re using Iceland’s unique landscape to make their preparations. Given the country’s unusual geographic characteristics, including canyons and terrain similar to those found on Mars, NASA believes Iceland is the perfect place to better understand what kinds of technology and capabilities might be needed to make a mission to Mars successful.

During a recent lecture at the University of Reykjavik, scientists Jennifer Heldmann and Darlene Lim explained their project in detail. “We’re in the beginning stages right now,” says Dr. Heldmann. “We’re collecting data, we have folks in the field taking samples, flying UAVs and taking pictures,” and the goal is to kick off more NASA exercises in Iceland as early as next year. These would consist of a series of simulations, where scientists would enact their journey to Mars, collecting data and samples, as well as protocols for communicating with Earth. Projects are already taking place around the capital of Reykjavik, but soon scientists will venture to more remote regions of the countryside.

“It’s really exciting,” says Dr. Lim, “because we can — before we go to places like Mars — practice doing that here on Earth.”

Ordinary travelers might not be able to get to Mars anytime soon, but luckily, cheap flights to Iceland can always be found.

H/T: The Reykjavik Grapevine

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