Brick By Brick, Building Martian Bases
Eugene Aquino, Richard Kiefer, and Robert Orwoll are working out ways to turn Martian regolith (aka dirt) into bricks that could be used as building materials and radiation shields.
People have proposed using planetary resources like ice before, but regolith has a lot to recommend it. It is plentiful, for one, and easy to work with. Kiefer worked on a NASA experiment with lunar regolith 16 years ago. “That proved that you could take regolith and a polymeric material and make something that you could turn into a habitat—using only a microwave oven,” he says.
The basics for the current experiment are equally simple: Mix powdered polymer with regolith, dump it into a silicon mold, and apply heat. Just how much heat, and how it’s applied, remains proprietary. Of course, the scientists don’t have any Martian regolith, so they’re using volcanic ash from Hawai’i. Orwoll calls it “a close cousin” with similar properties, like lots of silicate and iron.
Science fiction fans have early exposure to this idea. In fact, in his 1951 novel The Moon is Hell, John W. Campbell wrote about marooned members of the second lunar expedition surviving by manufacturing solar cells using lunar materials.
(John W. Campbell [1931 Wonder Stories])
See also this related article on a Lunar Contour Crafting - 'Print' A Moonbase and this article on how moon dust can be used to fabricate solar power panels.
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