Tasmania’s Stories

Local medico geared for Mars

Edition 185_Tucker

Hobart can now boast a Mars-ready medico as well as a scientist who plays a major role in NASA's expeditions to the surface of the Red Planet.

CSIRO's Paulo de Souza is well-known internationally for his role in miniaturising instruments used on the Martian surface by the robot explorers Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity.

Alicia Tucker, a Hobart medical practitioner and space enthusiast, is less well known outside Tasmania, but she can now lay claim to being one of Earth's most Mars-ready medicos.

Dr Tucker is an emergency physician and has worked in such remote locations as the Australian outback and Antarctica.

Her recognised expertise in remote medicine won her a place this year in a team that simulated life on Mars during 10 days in an American desert.

"Last year I received an email from the Wilderness Medicine Society which had in it the line: 'Learn aerospace medicine and live like an astronaut on Mars'," Dr Tucker told the ABC.

"It's essentially adult space camp, so what's not to love about it?"

Dr Tucker packed up and headed for the Mars Desert Research Station, about 500km from Salt Lake City in the American State of Utah.

The station was built in 2002 by the Mars Society, a volunteer-driven, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting human exploration of the Red Planet.

The site includes living quarters, a GreenHab to grow plants and process grey water, an observatory and an engineering area.

Crews of six volunteers at a time live at the facility for two weeks, conducting experiments and simulating how life on Mars might be for explorers from Earth.

The station is formed by a series of small domes where specialists from various disciplines conduct experiments to work out how humans might be able to support themselves in a Martian environment.

"It feels like it's in the middle of nowhere," Dr Tucker said.

"We spent 10 days living in this environment. Essentially we locked the door on day two and that was it.

"If you went outside you had to go through an airlock in your spacesuit and when you went outside you were limited in your time ... by the virtual oxygen supply that you had on your back."

Dr Tucker was part of a six-person crew from around the world, each with medical backgrounds, who worked on a number of simulated medical emergencies.

Having learnt a lot about aerospace medicine, Dr Tucker said she was proud to have been a part of such an experiment.

She said she had spent a gap year in London, but her two sons could conceivably consider a gap year on Mars.

"I think they [my sons] were excited, but for them it was more about what kind of presents they could get when I got back.

"It's probably later on that they'll see my flight suit with my name on it and I'll be able to show them pictures and hopefully they'll be proud of me and feel as though I might be part of developing opportunities for their future."

Dr Tucker's father, Dr Alan Tucker, was also a remote medical practitioner, working for a time among isolated Aboriginal communities in central Australia.

Tasmania's leading authority on Mars is Dr Paulo de Souza, a world leader in research on micro-sensor technologies and systems.

He captured the world media's attention when he developed thousands of environmental sensors small enough to be carried like backpacks by honey bees.

Dr de Souza is a collaborating scientist on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission, which sent two six-wheeled robots, Spirit and Opportunity, to the Martian surface in 2003.

He is also involved in the much larger rover — the VW-sized Curiosity — that was landed in 2012.

Spirit's mission ended in March 2010 when it was immobilised, however Opportunity was still exploring in May 2017 and had edged its way over more than 43km of the uneven, alien surface.

Information relayed back to Earth by the robots has been the foundation of an exhaustive series of scientific papers published by Dr de Souza.

Among findings published in the journal Science is evidence that freshwater rivers and streams existed 3.8 billion years ago in the Meridiani Plains region, near the Martian equator.

"All the evidence we have indicates the local Martian water was like spring water that you could drink," Dr de Souza, said.

"It would have been hospitable to any microbial life that may have existed at the time."

But, according to Dr de Souza, an asteroid impact exposed volcanic rocks that were then subjected to chemical weathering, resulting in salts dissolving into the water.

"As time passed with this and other impacts in the region, a more acidic environment developed, with the water becoming as strong as vinegar."

Dr de Souza and colleagues have determined the chemistry of the ancient water through minerals found in the sediments.

"We not only know that there was water on Mars, but we can see how that water changed over time forming different minerals," he said.

"Looking at those minerals is just like looking at a book of history, with the story of the planet recorded in those minerals."

It is hoped that new information from Opportunity and Curiosity will help prepare the way for the human exploration of Earth's planetary neighbour that many scientists believe is inevitable.

Dr Tucker is, no doubt, watching with interest.

To see more about Dr Paulo de Souza's work with the Mars rover watch the following video.

Image courtesy of the ABC

4 July 2017, Edition 185

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012-13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island's land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named 'Best Temperate Island in the World' by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of Mt Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania's highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King's holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia's largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania's predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world's biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the state's gross product in 2010-11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

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