We might not be all that close to sending a manned mission to Mars, but that isn't stopping people from preparing for the journey. The Mars Analogue Research Station (MARS) Programme sets up simulations of the Martian atmosphere here on Earth, allowing people to "test out protocols and procedures that will be required for human operations on Mars, and to test equipment that may be carried and used by human mission to the Red Planet."

Crews spend between two weeks and a month living in a habitat simulating Martian conditions. They need to don a spacesuit to leave, there's a built-in time delay for communications with "Earth," and they can only use equipment and materials from inside the habitat.

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There are two locations where these experiments are done. The first is on Devon Island in the Arctic Circle, which is the largest uninhabited island on earth and home to a gigantic meteorite crater. The second is the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. Two more locations are planned for the future, with one currently under construction in Iceland.

It's a pretty cool project, one that's sure to help out the astronauts who will head to the Red Planet at some point in our future. Bring on the Martian condos and shopping malls! [Fogonazos via Neatorama]