The United Arab Emirates (UAE) plans to build a permanent settlement on Mars by 2117. As part of preparations for the settlement, it will build a simulation of a Martian settlement in the Metaverse.
A Dubai-based Web3 company called Bedu will lead development of the simulation. It expects to collaborate with experts in the space exploration community through a series of workshops and strategy sessions to create a realistic simulation of living and working on Mars.
What Is The Metaverse and Why Use It for Mars?
When most people think of the Metaverse, they typically think of virtual worlds similar to Second Life or Roblox. More recent Metaverse properties include blockchain-based virtual worlds like Decentraland and Sandbox. Facebook famously changed its name to Meta and announced plans to build its own Metaverse.
The hype around the Metaverse appears to have declined somewhat. Sales of virtual land plots in blockchain-based properties like Sandbox dropped drastically since January 2022. Prices of those plots plummeted. That can present an opportunity for organizations like the UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre that would like an affordable way to simulate properties like the planned Martian settlement in a virtual world.
Simulations in the Metaverse can present benefits like:
- Generate a low-risk study of the compatibility of a long-term crew. Even with a grouping of individually talented and normally level-headed astronauts, personalities matter in an environment where somebody can’t just leave if a crew member gets on their nerves. Small problems get amplified and it’s important to choose people who aren’t going to be a PITA during a long-duration space exploration mission. In Antarctica, which is as close to the remote and inhospitable environment on Mars as it’s possible to get on Earth, someone once allegedly murdered a colleague for giving away the endings of books. A simulator, virtual or otherwise, provides more opportunities to study a crew’s compatibility, weed out the ones who are going to get on others’ nerves, and end things if they go too far before people are actually sent to Mars.
- Provide some crew training in step-by-step processes. It’s normal for astronauts to have checklists on top of checklists for their daily tasks. That makes it less likely for them to skip a step. While it may not always replace a “real” environment for learning how to accomplish each task, a virtual world can be useful for going over the steps even when an astronaut isn’t at the training facility. The Mars Society already has the MarsVR simulator, which was created using three-dimensional scans of its Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.
- Go over some possible technical issues. With enough sophistication, a Metaverse simulator can double as a “digital twin” of a physical asset that can be used to attempt to reproduce problems that occur in a live environment. It provides a way to determine what happens if you flip this switch or didn’t turn that knob all the way.
The UAE does already have a “Mars Scientific City” simulator that cost US$136 million and spreads over 177,000 square meters. It includes laboratories for food, water, and energy management and a museum featuring achievements in space. It initially planned on having a team living there for a year to help pin down any possible social issues that crews might face during a long-duration mission on Mars or even permanent settlement.
UAE Already Rocking It in Space
The UAE already has a fairly impressive space program. Its “Hope” orbiter reached Mars in in February 2021 and is still taking readings of Mars’ thin atmosphere. It will send a Lunar Rover named Rashid 1 to the Moon in November 2022 and follow it up with Rashid 2 as early as 2026.
The United Arab Emirates also sent Major Hazzaa al-Mansoori to the International Space Station in 2019. During his nine-day mission, he conducted 31 experiments. The UAE recently arranged with Axiom Space, SpaceX, and NASA to send astronaut Sultan Al-Neyadi to the International Space Station on the Crew-6 mission. Sultan Al-Neyadi will become the first Emirati astronaut to serve a full increment on the International Space Station. Cr