An emerging discovery by researchers at the University of California, San Diego brings NASA closer to its dreams of colonizing the red planet by 2033.
The federal space agency has commissioned several studies to help make this mission a reality, with recent breakthroughs answering important questions including how humans will get there, what they will eat, and where they will live on Mars.
Space Construction In Mars
A permanent human settlement on Mars requires infrastructure to sustain habitats and life. However, the cost and logistics of shipping a steady supply of construction materials from Earth to a faraway planet are going to be an issue.
The latest findings of a study published in Scientific Reports offer a concrete solution to this. Using a simulant called Mars-1a, which has a chemical composition akin to Martian soil and which has long been used by scientists to make bricks, engineers at UC San Diego were able to produce solid bricks without the use of heat or any additional materials by applying a substantial amount of pressure.
Natural Bonding Agent
The bricks created solely out of Martian soil may be small, but according to the study's lead author Yu Qiao, they're remarkably stronger than steel-reinforced concrete.
Qiao and his team believe that iron oxide, which gives Martian soil its unique reddish color, serves as a natural bonding agent for the bricks. The iron oxide particles effortlessly adhere to one another under enough pressure.
"If this can indeed be scaled up for mass production on Mars, then I would say we are lucky," Qiao, a materials scientist and engineer, told the New York Times. Having previously worked with an analogue for lunar soil, he also revealed that the incredible feature they found in Martian soil is not shared by the soil from the moon.
'Real Martian Soil May Behave Differently'
Philip Metzger, a planetary physicist who delves into the study of Martian soil mechanics at the University of Central Florida, pointed out that although the simulated soil delivered promising results, real Martian soil may respond otherwise.
Developed by NASA, Mars-1a may prove to be the best of all Martian soil simulants, but Metzger said its composition is different from the real deal, adding that it has about three times more aluminum oxide and six times more titanium oxide compared to Martian regolith.
He also noted that because the simulant comes from Hawaii where it's always raining, its grain size and mineral content may not be credible enough to mimic real Martian soil from the dry and icy planet.
"This might not be good enough for NASA, since it limits the location of an outpost," Metzger stated, "but for Elon Musk's Mars colony it might be perfect."