The government of the United Arab Emirates recently declared intentions to build a city on Mars in the next century or so. Their first step? A prototype city on Earth. This week officials launched the Mars Science City project, which will attempt to build "a viable and realistic model to simulate living on the surface of Mars."
People on Earth pretend to be Martians all the time. Mars simulations in places like Hawaii and Utah have become so de rigor that IKEA recently sent their engineers for a short stay in one for, uh, reasons? But the UAE has grander plans in mind: their 1.9 million square foot city will provide a playground for engineers to prototype future Martian building materials and construction techniques, while simultaneously creating labs capable of simulating various aspects of the Red Planet's environment.
The country hopes to attract "the best scientific minds from around the world," according to a statement. There's no word on whether the city will eventually have permanent inhabitants, but the UAE does plan to have a dedicated team live within a Mars simulation there for one year. They'll work on developing the kind of self-sufficient processes that will keep astronauts healthy and well-fed during a true Mars mission. And as is always the case with research for longterm spaceflight, the lessons learned under those harsh conditions—limited access to water, intense heat and cold, isolation, and so on—could help develop useful farming and building strategies to implement right here on Earth.