One of the biggest challenges humanity faces as we prepare to expand out into the solar system is where and how we’ll actually live on these planets not quite as accommodating as Planet Earth. Well, instead of hauling a habitat to Mars, some scientists are taking a different approach to space colonization.
Wired reports chemists Eugene Aquino, Richard Kiefer and Robert Orwoll are working to find a formula that will easily turn Martian dirt into stable, usable bricks for construction. Even better? They’re trying to figure out how to shield those bricks from harmful space radiation. The concept makes sense: Mars is covered in regolith (that red, sandy dirt), and it’d provide a near-limitless construction material if they can nail the formula.
To make bricks, the team combines the space dirt with a powdered polymer, put it into a brick-shaped mold and heat it. To test the theory, they’re using volcanic ash from Hawai’i (which is very similar to Martian dirt) in the meantime. The big test now is to figure out which formula and approach works best, before we actually sent astronauts off to build a brick house on Mars.
“Being able to use what’s sitting right there on the ground is what could make Martian exploration possible,” Orwoll told Wired. ”You could easily have robots build habitats as needed ahead of time, and by the time the astronauts arrived, they’d already have a place to hang their hats.”
Considering how NASA’s budget seems to get smaller every year, taking a low-tech approach to space colonization could be just the thing to kickstart the revolution. Give us a few decades, and those robots will be cranking out Martian McMansions.