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Why scientists are building a 'Martian garden' in Switzerland

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Why scientists are building a 'Martian garden' in Switzerland
Nikolaus Kuhn with a model of the ExoMars Rover. Photo: University of Basel/Florian Moritz
12:50 CET+01:00
While South African entrepreneur Elon Musk makes a huge song and dance about his planned Mars project, Swiss researchers are quietly going about the business of creating a so-called "Martian garden" near Basel to test a high-tech camera that will be sent to the red planet in an entirely separate mission.

To test the Swiss-made CLUPI (Close-Up Imager) camera, scientists are using a replica of the Mars Rover that will be sent to the red planet during the ExoMars mission set to begin in 2020.

They have also simulated the conditions they expect to find on Mars by creating a rocky garden.

“We are testing, for example, how the Mars Rover should drive over a stone we want to investigate, what position our camera has to be in and what sun conditions are best for capturing images,” University of Basel professor Nikolaus J. Kuhn told Swiss public broadcaster SRF.

The CLUPI camera can capture high-definition colour images. Photo: University of Basel/Florian Moritz

The ExoMars mission is being run jointly by the European Space Agency and its Russian counterpart Roskosmos and aims to look for signs of life on Mars.

“There is no question the chances are small,” said CLUPI developer Jean-Luc Josset from the Space Exploration Institute in Switzerland.

“But even if there is only a sniff of a chance, we have to try.”

In 2014, a University of Lausanne study concluded the French-speaking part of Switzerland could be the perfect place to test conditions faced by humans on Mars.

Switzerland has the scientific, technological and industrial capabilities necessary to create a closed artificial ecosystem to test the viability of humans travelling to Mars, the report said.

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