Life on Mars gets a test run in the Utah desert

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Hang a right a few miles past the Dirty Devil River, bump down Cow Dung Road, and the barren, red landscape beyond morphs from mere desert into something, well, otherworldly.

Men and women in spacesuits and oxygen tanks pick their way around boulders. One collects soil samples. Another launches a drone.

The aircraft hovers then drops. Whirring blades thwack the ground before stopping. Dead battery.

The radio crackles. “Every day is a new problem,” the operator says with a sigh.

Welcome to Mars. Sort of.

Since 2001, the Mars Desert Research Station, a small complex that includes a laboratory, living quarters, observatories, a repair shop and a greenhouse, has served as a reliable stand-in for an actual base on Mars. The station is operated by the Mars Society, a collection of 10,000 space enthusiasts from more than 40 countries dedicated to exploring and settling the red planet.

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