Photo by David Baillot, materials processed by Brian J. Chow and Yu Qiao
A great news for all space travel enthusiasts just came out; soil just like mars can be put together in a solid brick form without the need of any extra materials or additives to put it together. This means that Mars’ real soil too, will probably behave the same way.
This is a huge deal because it will make construction on the red planet a lot easier, be it living structures or facilities to supplement intergalactic travel. By making building structures easier, this discovery means that at least one of the biggest complications of human stay on Mars became a little less complicated.
This major discovery was done by a group of engineers who hammered and mashed together a material called the “Mars soil simulant.” This soil is a collection of earth rocks that have the exact chemical makeup as that of Mars and the shape and size of its grains are also similar to Martian grains.
The engineers after working with the material for a while were lucky to find that just through the application of the right amount of pressure, they were able to form tiny but stiff brick blocks, stronger than steel infused concrete.
This is new to us earthlings because when we do our construction, we combine our materials with a binder or a special adhesive for it to stay put together securely. The binder acts like a glue sticking everything together firmly and holding it in one place.
However this simulated Martian dirt is special, it has its own innate material that acts just like glue. When pressurized and compacted, these special particles give strength to the soil, revealed Yu Qiao, the lead researcher of the technique of the NASA-funded study, to the Verge Magazine.
While the soil is just a stimulant, its characteristics may not necessarily translate to those of Mars, but it increases the chances of it doing so, and if it does then that would be the best news for those dreaming of visiting the planet in their lifetime, of course after Musk’s confirmed intention of taking them there.
This is also because a lot of experts already agree that the future astronauts who will probably be the first humans on Mars will need to use Mars’ own resources if they ever want to create something there. Humans cannot afford to, neither will have the energy to, take all that they need on Mars, from earth. Other than being expensive, it will also be an extremely complicated journey, and taking building material there would make the permanent settlement plan on Mars very unviable.
Astronauts who would plan to live on Mars will need to live off the land, no matter how barren and infertile it is as it can still be used for other purposes. According to the findings of this research published in the Scientific Reports Journal, the buildings and structures made with Mars soil instead of earth soil are actually going to require much less effort.
Before this study, Qiao’s team at NASA was trying to find ways to make building materials with lunar soil and employ some technique to make it stay securely together. This was back when the space agency had still intended to go back to the moon. The lunar soil needed a binder, and the plan was to use as little as possible so that only the minimum amount needs to be shipped there.
Then in 2010, the agency turned towards Mars and so did Qiao’s team. They started experimenting with Mars simulant soil in the same manner as the lunar material, which is with a binder. When that worked well they just tried pushing the limit of that binder’s requirement lower and lower each time and ended up discovering that the Martian soil bonded perfectly well all on its own.
The researchers knew that it was something in the material of the soil itself which allowed it to behave that way. Turned out it was iron oxide, a chemical compound that gives the planet its signature red hue. This compound, when crushed, cracks easy and upon pressing it forms super strong bonds with other iron oxide compounds.
Qiao sees this miraculous material being used to make landing pads for ships that will land on the planet and habitats for people. According to him, the best method to employ to make this soil function optimally would be to slowly layer it, in a similar way to how a 3D printer layers.