The race to send astronauts and then other people to Mars is on the go. Finding ways to then safely build on the red planet is now also on the table.
A team of researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design has proposed chitin-based materials as the best option to construct buildings and manufacture tools on Mars. Astronauts will only need to bring the material, and the rest will be sourceable directly from the red planet, such as using its soil.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE earlier this month.
All thanks to bugs
Chitin is a fibrous substance that comes from cell walls in fungi, exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans, as well as fish and amphibian scales.
By combining chitin with Mars' lifeless soil, future Mars explorers could be able to construct colonies without even needing specialized equipment. The research team suggested introducing insects as part of the crew's diet, which would provide lots of protein for them as well as offering a solid byproduct for building materials.
Chitin, found in crustaceans, fish and fungi, could be used to build on #Mars, say @JGFermart and colleagues at @sutdsg. #MaterialsScience— PLOS (@PLOS) September 18, 2020
📰 @CNN article: https://t.co/NYima2mIIe
🔎 @PLOSONE paper: https://t.co/3aKxi3wEJS
Given the basic resources found on Mars, future missions and long-term settlements there will need to find ways of building their stations and tools without necessarily bringing everything pre-built from Earth. Something that would be near-impossible.
The team tested its theory by combining chitosan — an organic polymer — with a mineral created to have the same properties as Martian soil. The team then used the combination to create a wide variety of manufacturing methods.
For instance, the material was able to produce cartoon figurines, basic tools, and could also be used as mortar to repair holes. They even created an entire Martian habitat that they dubbed MARSHA, per Physics World.
The team pointed out to CNN that its research is only proof of concept at this stage. None of their manufacturing was created in Mars-like conditions, for example.
That said, chitin may prove useful for future missions to Mars, so this discovery may well be used in the future.