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"We have the motto of fail fast, fail cheap, and have a steep learning curve. Because for every mistake we make here on earth, we hope we don't repeat it on Mars," said Gernot Gromer, director of the Austrian Space Forum.

The Austrian association is running the project together with the Israel Space Agency and local group D-MARS.

A number of recent Mars probes have captivated astronomy fans across the world with robotic rovers like NASA's Perseverance and, for the first time, the helicopter Ingenuity, offering a glance of the planet's surface. But a manned mission is likely more than a decade off.

With AMADEE-20, which was supposed to happen in 2020 but was postponed due to Covid-19, the team hopes to bring new insight that will help prepare for that mission, when it comes.

"The habitat, right now, is the most complex, the most modern analog research station on this planet," said Gromer, standing beside the 120 sq meter structure shaped like two large, connected yurts.

The six team members are constantly on camera, their vital signs monitored, their movements inside are tracked to analyze favorite spots for congregating. All this to better understand the human factor, Gromer said.

Outside, other engineers and specialists work with a drone and rover to improve autonomous navigation and mapping on a world where GPS is not available.

Altogether they will carry out more than 20 experiments in fields including geology, biology and medicine and hope to publish some of the results when finished.

"We are six people working in a tight space under a lot of pressure to do a lot of tests. There are bound to be challenges," said Alon Tenzer, 36, wearing the space suit that carries some 50 kg of equipment. "But I trust my crew that we are able to overcome those challenges."

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