Humans are dreaming of settling down on the Red Planet in the future. However, to bring this dream to fruition, scientists have to cross quite a few hurdles, including distance and time taken to supply tons of materials for building human settlements on Mars.
To solve the problem, a team of researchers have invented a way to turn Mars' soil into bricks without baking or additional ingredients. One would just have to apply sufficient amount of pressure to make the soil compact.
Martian Soil Bricks
NASA funded the study and a team of engineers from the University of San Diego conducted the research. The study is of significant importance since President Donald Trump signed a bill in March 2017, directing NASA to send a manned mission to Mars by 2033.
The researchers shared how they would use Martian soil to create bricks.
"In this work we demonstrate that Martian soil simulant Mars-1a can be directly compressed at ambient into a strong solid without additives, highlighting a possible aspect of complete Martian in-situ resource utilization," the authors asserted in their research paper.
The idea to use Martian soil to make bricks for building habitats on the planet is not new. However, this is the first study that shows that astronauts would not require too many components to build bricks on the Red Planet.
Prior to this research, scientists were toying with the idea of using complex chemistry to make binding polymers out of Martian organic compounds. They even contemplated the possibility of nuclear-powered brick kilns to churn out the basic building materials.
However, the process described in the new research is easy and simple and would not require the astronauts to carry heavy machinery or complicated technology with them to Mars.
Mars-Like Soil Used To Make Bricks: How Did Engineers Accomplish This Feat?
The discovery of this new brick-making method is accidental. During the initial phase of the study, the San Diego engineers were trying to decrease the amount of polymers required to make bricks out of Martian soil. They accidentally discovered that none of this was needed to produce bricks.
According to the researchers, there are two essential steps to turn Martian soil into bricks — without the help of additional additives, baking, or heating the material.
In the first step, the astronauts would need to surround the simulant in a closed flexible container. For the purpose of the study, the scientists deployed a rubber tube. The second step would be to make the simulant compact under high pressure.
For making a small compact brick sample out of Mars-like soil, pressure roughly equal to someone dropping a 10-pound hammer from a height of one meter is required. The engineers were successful in producing small round soil pallets, which are an inch tall and can be shaped into bricks.
How Did These Bricks Fare In Tenacity Tests?
The researchers assume that the iron oxide present in the Martian soil acts as the binding agent under immense pressure and turns the loose dirt into solid components. The team conducted a strength test and discovered that the bricks made out of Mars-like soil were stronger that steel-reinforced concrete.
To build a strong structure, the astronauts can compact one layer of soil on another. Currently, the researchers are persevering to increase the size of the bricks manufactured by following the new process.
"The people who will go to Mars will be incredibly brave. They will be pioneers. And I would be honored to be their brick maker," the study's lead author Yu Qiao remarked.
The findings of the study have been published in the journal Scientific Reports, on Thursday, April 27.