A 2030 flight plan to Mars might include touching down on Mexican soil as a team of specialists from the United States and Mexico sets out to assess the viability of using the Sonoran Desert as astronaut training grounds.
The desert is unique in the world for its extensive dune fields in one of the driest regions, where the focus of exploration experts is the 2,000-square-kilometer biosphere reserve at El Pinacate.
The most striking characteristic of El Pinacate — a dormant volcanic area — are the numerous volcanic phenomena and geological formations located on the Pinacate Sierra.
With three distinct peaks, the area’s complex structure, comprised of red and black lava flows, is the most spectacular and youngest lava field in North America with extensive fields of dunes.
That the area has previously served for astronaut training is a “little historical fact,” explained the director of the Mexican Space Agency (AEM).
“This region, with its unique characteristics in Sonora, was selected by NASA [United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration] as a training ground for astronauts during the Apollo program from 1965 to 1970, in what was the first lunar exploration made by humans,” said Javier Mendieta Jiménez.
“Several astronauts, including Edgar Mitchell and Alan B. Shepard, trained there,” he added.
In order to determine how viable El Pinacate will be for the next chapter of human space exploration, an expedition comprised of several specialists from Arizona State University, the president of the Technological University of Guaymas, Sonora, researchers from the National Space Society and two postgraduates from the Institute of Geophysics of the National Autonomous University of México (UNAM) havs set out for the biosphere reserve.
Joined by members of El Pinacate biosphere reserve staff as well as personnel from the AEM, the expedition is expected to offer valuable information to NASA.
The space agency is looking for areas on Earth that offer similar inhospitable conditions as those found on the Red Planet, as astronauts are to train for a manned Mars expedition scheduled for 2030.