SAGA Space Architects SAGA Space Architects

A Martian Analogue

Wadi Rum expedition 3 - 16. November. 2018

A wide photograph of the Wadi Rum Desert, which resembles the environment of Mars

How do you imagine Mars?

A difficult challenge about designing for Mars is the lack of first-hand research. No human has set foot on the planet and without a frame of reference, Mars quickly becomes a speculative dream. Essential to any architectural project are questions like: How does it look? How does it feel? How does it sound?

To begin to understand and answer these questions, we travelled to the place on earth that most closely resembles Mars: The Wadi Rum desert. During our two weeks of solitude there we gained critical insight to the challenges of isolation and deprivation, as well as a visual impression of the red Martian desert.

Sebastian and Karl sitting in the Wadi Rum desert.

Sebastian and Karl sitting in the Wadi Rum desert.


Time moves slower here, away from the quantified time of civilised living. In the morning I question how time will pass when I have nothing to spend it on. I remind myself that time goes, even when nothing happens, and eventually, I will return home. Knowing the finity of the experiment comforts me. Could I endure this if there was no end date?

Excerpt from personal diary

comparison of the environment of Mars and the Wadi Rum desert. 
        They are very similar visually.
more comparison of the environment of Mars and the Wadi Rum desert. 
        They are very similar visually.

Images from Mars (top) and Wadi Rum (bottom)

We put ourselves in the shoes of the first astronauts who will travel to the distant planet, and explorers in general, by going on a mission with sparse food and water, no communication to the outside world, and no sensory and mental stimuli in Jordan’s vast and alien landscape. It brought us closer to understanding the minds of the explorers who will first set foot on Mars; what things they might miss and what will be important for their mental and physical health.

Most importantly, we tested and confirmed several hypotheses and suspicions about how it would be to live secluded with sensory deprivation. We learned that the mind craves input or it gets extremely restless, anxious and obsessive. A good story, knowledge, and a few pictures put it at ease.

We learned that we can be satisfied with the most basic physiological necessities. We had the simplest shelter, water and powdered food. Yet we didn’t miss a soft bed, good food and a bathroom. It was the least of our worries. The biggest challenge by far was the extreme boredom and apathy.

And most importantly, we learned that humans need other people around them, in order to function. Preferably close relations and family.

"After a week in the desert, the redness of the sand seemed to fade away. It wasn't until I unpacked a new bottle of water, which seemed to shine with an impossible clear blue colour - that I realized my eyes had completely adjusted to the red sand"
— Excerpt from personal diary