A No-Bake Recipe for Martian Bricks

Fagjun | Published 2017-04-29 02:23

A brick made of Martian soil
[Photo by the Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego]

Scientists have figured out a no-bake recipe for creating bricks out of Martian soil.

Making bricks on Mars won't be the same as the brick-making process on Earth. Here, we use clay and shale and shape them into the size and shape of bricks. Brick makers then place the raw bricks in a kiln for baking and hardening.

Of course, being that Mars is a whole other planet than Earth, some things are bound to happen differently over there. NASA is planning on sending a manned mission to Mars by the year 2033, and one important thing to prepare for is habitation. Instead of bringing materials over from Earth to create shelters on Mars, why not use what Mars has to offer?

The First No-Bake Recipe of Our Space-Faring Future

There have been a lot of proposals about using Martian soil to build habitats and shelters for astronauts. However, these proposals were either too complex or reliant on equipment like nuclear-powered kilns. A manned mission to Mars is already complex enough, so why complicate it further? Luckily, a team of researchers have figured out a way to build these habitats using a minimal amount of resources.

The researchers were in the process of trying to figure out if they can cut down on the use of polymers to create bricks. In a stroke of serendipity, they found that the polymers were actually unnecessary.

Thus they were able to figure out a one-ingredient, no-bake recipe for Martian soil bricks through the use of pressure. The recipe is so simple that it only actually takes two key steps. First, the researchers enclosed the simulant soil in a rubber tube. Second, they packed the soil under high pressure. The pressure is equivalent to the pressure generated by dropping a 10-pound hammer from a height of one meter. It's a lot like dropping a bag of dog food from a table on to a tube of Martian soil.

Thus, the researchers were able to come up with round pellets about an inch thick. They cut these pellets into rectangular shapes in order to produce the bricks.

The Human Capacity for Innovation

A round pellet of Martian soil, which will later on become a brick stronger than concrete.
[Photo by the Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego]

Martian soil owes its red hue to its iron oxide content. Apparently, the iron oxide in the soil is the thing that acts as the binding agent that helps form the bricks. Upon investigation, the researchers found that iron oxide particles bind to each other when subjected to high pressure.

Amazingly, the researchers also found that the bricks they created were stronger than reinforced concrete. Plus, creating the shelters with this process seems to be simple. The researchers say that the astronauts can pack a layer of soil and compact it using the no-bake recipe, and repeat the process in subsequent layers.

The great thing about this research and others like it is that it's an example of human ingenuity. Extraordinary—or, in this case, extraterrestrial—circumstances have enabled scientists to think outside the box and outside of the usual way to do things. Even something as simple or even mundane as making bricks can be challenging in Martian circumstances. Soon, there may be more innovative research much like this no-bake recipe for bricks.

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