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Novel Materials for Building on Mars

Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun, has been the subject of fiction, scientific research and engineering since the 1800s. It is the most accessible place for life other than on Earth, making it a scientifically interesting location in our solar system. Emerging technologies to provide safe habitats for manned missions to Mars have been identified as a priority by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Research in this field has become even more significant since Congress passed a bill directing NASA to send a manned mission to Mars by 2033.

One of the primary challenges associated with developing a livable infrastructure on Mars is the transportation and construction of habitats for space crews. Transporting traditional construction materials from Earth to Mars to establish and assemble a base would generate formidable expenditures, rendering a manned mission to Mars near unfeasible. The ability to use indigenous materials, both for fuel, water and construction has long been recognized as a crucial ability to enable human exploration of the solar system and, in turn, the establishment of bases and infrastructure on other planetary bodies.

Due to the cost prohibitive nature of interplanetary material transportation from Earth, there is now a consensus that viable materials for construction can only be chosen from those available on the surface of the Moon or Mars. However, there are shortcomings related to the use of indigenous materials. Thus, it is necessary to establish methods to modify these indigenous materials, and subsequently evaluate the behavior of the modified material.

Drs. Giancaspro and Ghahremaninezhad recently received funding from NASA Florida Space Grant Consortium’s Florida Space Research Program to investigate the performance of a new paradigm of construction materials that blends state-of-the-art nanomaterials with raw materials indigenous from Mars.

The use of nanomaterials has the potential to revolutionize construction materials used on Earth. Prior studies have shown that incorporating nanomaterials into construction materials can improve the mechanical performance and durability of the hybrid product. Scientists believe that since this works on Earth, the same principles can be applied to indigenous materials on Mars to create viable construction materials. This research project will explore the use of nanomaterials made of Mars soil and a bioengineered cement to enhance the performance of the hybrid construction material. The bioengineered cement – also known as bio-cement – describes the calcium carbonate formed by soil based- microorganisms that ‘set’ sand into a solid rock-type material. The microorganisms are chosen based on their ability to endure the harsh Martian conditions. As they live and reproduce in the indigenous Mars material, they carry out their biological processes, inadvertently tailoring the indigenous material into a concrete-like material.

Ultimately, the resulting hybrid material – bioengineered concrete – could form the basis for the creation of habitat structures in other cosmic bodies, helping NASA develop the required technologies for a manned mission to Mars and substantially decreasing its cost. To learn more about similar research projects, please visit the College of Engineering Advanced Materials Research Lab.

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