MARS: Building With Concrete on the Red Planet

Researchers have formulated a way to mix the material from Martian soil.

Kevin Gill | Flickr Creative Commons

Future human settlers looking to create a permanent residence on Mars could conceivably use Martian-mixed concrete for construction purposes, researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois say.

With SpaceX successfully landing a rocket stage, and the Curiosity rover frequently delivering tidbits of information concerning the realities of the Red Planet, the notion of life on Mars—as in humans heading there to live—seems more and more tangible. Add in a Golden Globe win by Matt Damon, and heck it seems like we’re practically ready to hang our collective hats over there (as in approximately 235 million miles away).

But the fact is, if we are going to set up shop upon our dusty planetary neighbor, we’ll need to be practical—and there are researchers working on ways to make our stay a possibility—like Northwestern University’s Center for Sustainable Engineering of Geological and Infrastructure Materials (SEGIM), who have devised ways for earthlings on Mars to concoct viable building material.

A group from SEGIM recently published a piece (titled A Novel Material for In Situ Construction on Mars: Experiments and Numerical Simulations) that lays the foundation for possibly establishing foundations on Mars with resources taken from Martian soil. “A significant step in space exploration during the 21st century will be human settlement on Mars,” the write-up opens, “Instead of transporting all the construction materials from Earth to the red planet with incredibly high cost, using Martian soil to construct a site on Mars is a superior choice.”

As it turns out, Mars is just lousy with sulfur. The element has a long history of human use for building purposes, and as the SEGIM team reports, “Both the atmospheric pressure and temperature range on Mars are adequate for hosting sulfur concrete structures.” To those among us not well-versed in the mixing of concrete, it turns out that not every environment in the Solar System would allow for its creation—not even our moon, where “the low temperature (it can dip as low as -243 degrees Fahrenheit)…is too harsh to maintain intact the mechanical properties of sulfur concrete.” On the other hand, the average temp on Mars (-81 degrees Fahrenheit) is apparently quite suitable.

The SEGIM formula for MC (“Martian Concrete”) would roughly be a mix of 50-percent Martian sulfur and 50-percent Martian soil—and the mix also has the added bonus of being recyclable.

“In recent years,” the Northwestern U team reports, “many countries, including the U.S., China, and Russia, announced to launch manned Mars missions in the next decades. Due to the dry environment on Mars, sulfur concrete concept is a superior choice for building a human village on the red planet.”

There is, however, no mention of how to keep future human visitors from carving, “Earth wuz here” in any future freshly-laid Martian sidewalks.

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