on June 5th, 2024

Would you have ever imagined witnessing the construction of a building on Mars during our lifetime? Recent studies reveal that scientists have discovered potential solutions to kickstart building not just on Mars, but also on the Moon! 

Last September, EIT explored Elon Musk’s Mars Project, which is focused on the concept of colonizing the planet by 2030. With 2030 only six years away, scientists have now initiated action on this project.  

Read the full article here.

Recent developments in space exploration technology and advancements in the understanding of extraterrestrial environments have propelled society closer to realizing the vision of establishing human settlements on Mars. This progress also holds the potential for human settlements on other celestial bodies in the not-so-distant future. 

Building on Mars  

mars skyscraper
Mars

According to recent reports from Science Daily, researchers have embarked on a groundbreaking journey to discover liquid solvents capable of extracting essential materials from the regolith (the layer of rock and mineral fragments that rests on bedrock and is produced by the weathering of rocks) of celestial bodies such as the Moon and Mars.

This research marks a significant stride toward enabling sustained human exploration of space. 

Utilizing advanced methodologies like machine learning (ML) and computational modeling, researchers have pinpointed a handful of potential solvent candidates showing promise in extracting materials suitable for 3D printing from the unique compositions of lunar and Martian environments. These solvents, referred to as ionic liquids, exhibit the unique characteristic of being salts that remain in a liquid form. 

The research, as documented in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B and spearheaded by Dr. Soumik Banerjee, an associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University (WSU), emphasizes the pivotal role of ML in expediting the screening process of numerous ionic liquids. This facilitates a focused selection based on critical factors influencing solvent performance in material dissolution. 

This research closely aligns with NASA’s Artemis mission, which not only seeks to return humans to the Moon but also aims to extend exploration to Mars and beyond. To achieve such ambitious goals sustainably, astronauts must utilize materials and resources readily available in extraterrestrial environments.  

In situ resource utilization emerges as a key concept in NASA’s long-term strategy, recognizing the challenges of transporting materials from Earth. Therefore, the development of environmentally friendly and energy-efficient methods for acquiring building materials is paramount. Ionic liquids present a promising solution, particularly given the scarcity of water on the Moon. 

While laboratory testing of each ionic liquid candidate is resource-intensive and time-consuming, researchers have leveraged machine learning and atomic-level modeling to streamline the selection process.  

Their focus is on identifying solvents capable of efficiently digesting lunar and Martian materials, extracting crucial elements such as aluminum, magnesium, and iron, with the potential to yield oxygen or water as valuable byproducts essential for sustaining life. 

By discerning key solvent characteristics—such as the size and surface charge density of molecular ions, as well as ion mobility within the liquids—researchers have identified several promising candidates. Collaborative efforts with scientists from the University of Colorado have led to experimental testing of select ionic liquids’ ability to dissolve compounds. Moving forward, the aim is to establish lab-scale or pilot-scale reactors for further evaluation using materials akin to lunar regolith.  

This iterative approach paves the way for future human exploration and habitation beyond Earth’s confines. 

Looking ahead, the implications of this research extend beyond space exploration. Developing efficient solvent extraction methods could revolutionize industries on Earth, particularly in mining and resource extraction. Additionally, the knowledge gained from studying ionic liquids and their applications could lead to advancements in other areas such as energy storage, catalysis, and environmental remediation.  

Thus, while the immediate focus may be on enabling sustainable space travel, the potential benefits of this research are far-reaching and may impact various aspects of life on Earth. 

The future of Mars

Is It Possible?  

Some sources say that basaltic rock, a volcanic material found on Mars, exhibits promising qualities for construction. It is known for its strength and durability, making it suitable for structural components and foundations. Martian basalt can be shaped into various forms, including blocks, tiles, or even 3D-printed structures. 

However other sources say, considering the harsh conditions on the Martian surface, the possibility of building settlements with a direct connection to the Martian atmosphere has been explored. This would involve excavating deep into the Martian crust to reach air pressures sufficient for human survival without pressurized suits. 

“Undertaking construction on Mars is a multifaceted and audacious endeavor. However, through continuous research and technological progress, its feasibility is steadily improving. The potential rewards, spanning from scientific breakthroughs to resource utilization, and the prospect of establishing a lasting human presence on another celestial body, justify the obstacles we face.  

For instance, the Martian regolith, readily accessible on the planet’s surface, presents a promising resource. When combined with water ice, it holds the potential to serve as a foundational material for constructing structures, potentially evolving into what can be termed ‘Martian concrete’.” – Dr. Ana Evangelista, EIT’s On-Campus Lecturer and Work Integrated Coordinator.  

The pursuit of building on Mars and the Moon represents not only a bold step in space exploration but also a gateway to transformative advancements here on Earth. As scientists delve into the potential of liquid solvents, they’re not just shaping our future in space but also revolutionizing industries such as mining, energy storage, and environmental sustainability. 

This research underscores the boundless potential of human innovation and collaboration, reminding us that our quest for knowledge knows no bounds. As we look to the stars, we’re also laying the groundwork for a brighter, more sustainable future for generations to come. 

References  

Potential solvents identified for building on moon and Mars 

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