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Life on Mars gets a test run in the Utah desert

•, By David Kelly

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.

Researchers here pretend they are 140 million miles from Earth rather than seven miles from Duke's Slickrock Grill and the Whispering Sands Motel in Hanksville.

"We are the Martians," said Hanksville Mayor Kim Wilson. "They are the aliens."

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