Future Mars dwellers may actually be able to use locally-sourced materials for their buildings. Four University of California, San Diego engineers were able to press Mars-like dirt into bricks in a study funded by NASA. No other materials were necessary to keep the blocks together. And the bricks were incredibly tough – even more than steel-reinforced concrete.


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A high-pressure hammer helped the engineers pack dirt – with the same chemical composition and grain size and shape as soil on Mars – into strong bricks. Since storage will be limited on any craft carrying astronauts to Mars, they may be able to devote room to other equipment if they know they can construct habitats with the red planet’s resources.

Related: Scientists use Martian dust to 3D print tools

On Earth we typically have to employ some type of adhesive to keep construction materials together. But simulated Mars dirt actually has a chemical ingredient that helps bind it. Structural engineer Yu Qiao told The Verge the chemical ingredient “gives the soil strength when it’s compacted.”

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It may be feasible for humans to hammer out bricks on the red planet as well. NASA life sciences expert Jon Rask, not part of the study, told The Verge, “It’s really easy to swing a hammer on Mars. You can imagine a Mars explorer swinging a hammer to make strong building blocks.”

The team worked with lunar soil in the past, when NASA aimed to go back to the moon. Lunar dirt requires a binder, but since the binder would have to be shipped from Earth, the team worked with the lunar dirt until they were able to take the binder content below the 15 percent construction materials on Earth generally require to just three percent. When NASA shifted its focus to Mars, the team did too, and decided to test their lunar dirt findings on Mars dirt. They first tried packing the dirt into blocks with six percent binder, and when that worked well, they decided to test the Martian dirt further and discovered it necessitated no binder whatsoever.

The journal Scientific Reports published the engineers’ findings online yesterday.

Via The Verge

Images via the University of California, San Diego