The Rio Tinto Mining Park in Huelva, Spain is home to a unique tourism and educational initiative called “Mars on Earth”. The Mining Park, which over the past 30 years has established itself as the leading destination for industrial tourism in Spain, has designed an innovative offer focused on educational tourism, perfect for space enthusiasts.
Learn about Mars
Opened on December 16, visitors experience a red landscape with rocks and a red river that resembles Earth’s sister planet Mars. This site is part of the European project Valuetur which promotes protected areas of high historical value in Spain and Portugal.
In this park, schoolchildren can immerse themselves in a Mars research station or are even visited by curious astronauts in their classrooms. Part of the focus is on the mineralogical and landscape similarities to the Red Planet…perfect for learning, according to Marina Santamaria, a teacher at the Virgen del Rosario school.
“You can really see the learning happening when students compare a reality with what they’re working on in the classroom,” she says.
Realistic training grounds for space agencies
For more than twenty years, specialists from NASA, ESA and many others have regularly come to Rio Tinto to study the subsoil and the acidic river. Within this valley, they also carry out tests on their equipment and prepare for their missions to Mars.
However, preparing for takeoff is not the only area of interest for a space specialist. The researchers were also interested in the region where they discovered a very particular bacterium which could provide a solution to the question of oxygen production in space.
Aquilino Delgado Dominguez is the director of the Mining Museum, he says that Rio Tinto’s ecosystem is very special.
“It has extremophile bacteria that consume iron, sulfur and then produce oxygen, unlike other animals living on Earth that consume it. If you already have the bacteria on Mars and the minerals to ‘feed’ them, then you would have an oxygen plant and it would be easy for people to breathe in. That’s one of the things the agencies are investigating.
The Tinto River
Rio Tinto gets its name from its characteristic deep reddish color. This is due to a process called “weathering”, which is a process by which minerals, when they come into contact with the biosphere, hydrosphere or atmosphere, degrade or fragment.
Rio Tinto water is full of minerals such as iron and copper among others. When the molecules of these minerals come into contact with water and dissolve, they generate this particular color.
These red waters have a pH between 1.7 and 2.7 with a high content of heavy metals, which means that there are no fish in this river. However, this does not mean that there are no living creatures in the Rio Tinto. The presence of oxygen allows certain photosynthetic micro-organisms, adapted to extreme habitats, to survive. Some species of mushrooms and mushrooms endemic to the river can also be found.
Investing in Sustainable Tourism – Feeding Hearts and Minds
Valuetur’s total budget amounts to more than 1.2 million euros, of which 77.9% comes from the European cohesion policy. Within this, the “Mars on Earth” initiative is valued at 300,000 euros, 75% of which is subsidized by Europe via the European Regional Development Fund.
In addition to the scientific component, “Mars on Earth” encourages the development of the local economy by involving local restaurants in this sustainable tourism project.
At the Casa Idolina restaurant, visitors can find a Martian menu: Rio Tinto Cheeks, Martian Rock Croquettes, Martian Scallops, and Green Cloud Cheesecake.
Initially there will be a daily visit session from Wednesday to Saturday with a departure at 11am. Given the characteristics of the circuit, the sessions will have a limit of 40 places.
The plan of the Rio Tinto Foundation is to gradually increase the number of sessions, always guaranteeing compatibility with the other visit points of the Mining Park, so that visitors can discover the complete offer of a unique tourist destination based on the recovery and use of the mining heritage and the use of its natural resources.