Researchers mix up batches of Martian concrete
NASA says that if we can make it Mars, we’ll be there to stay. Not on a one-way mission like the Mars One fanatics crave, but to gradually build a permanent human presence on the red planet. To do that, we’re going to need something better than a pop-up tent.
Materials at hand will have to be used. That’s why scientists at Northwestern University are whipping up batches of concrete made from ‘Martian’ soil – and it doesn’t even require any precious water.
To make their Martian concrete, doctoral candidate Lin Wan and colleagues heated up sulfur—a common component on Mars—past its melting point of 240°Fahrenheit, then mixed in a simulated Martian soil. Trying out different ratios of ingredients, they found the strongest concrete used 50% sulphur and 50% Martian soil, and it works best if the soil has a fine grain.
Although sulphur tends to shrink and form bubbles when it dries, the researchers managed to avoid this by applying pressure during casting.
MIT’s Tech Review notes that when it’s made properly, the Martian concrete has a compressive strength that’s more than double the strength required to build residential buildings here on Earth. It can even be re-melted and recast into new shapes. Read Tech Review’s summary of the 28-page paper.
“In conclusion,” the study authors write, “the developed sulphur-based Martian concrete is feasible for construction on Mars for its easy handling, fast curing, high strength, recyclability, and adaptability in dry and cold environments.”