New "bacteria bricks" could be the building blocks for future Mars habitats

Will humans reach Mars by the 2030s?
Chris Young

Scientists working with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) proposed a method for building habitats on Mars using "bacteria bricks", a press statement reveals.

In a paper in the journal PLoS One, the researchers outline their plan for combining Martian soil with a gel-like material called guar gum, urea, nickel chloride, and a bacteria strain called Sporosarcina pasteurii. All of that would form the building blocks for habitats on the red planet.

The proposal joins a list of odd building material proposals for Mars that reflect the scarcity of materials for future missions to the red planet, and the requirement to make the most of any and every resource available. Last year, for example, the University of Manchester proposed building Mars habitats with astronaut blood and pee.  

Binding martian soil

For their proof-of-principle experiment, the ISRO scientists used Martian soil simulant and demonstrated that the bacteria transformed the urea into crystals of calcium carbonate and also secreted a sticky biopolymer substance. The nickel chloride helps the bacteria grow despite the soil's high iron content, which is typically toxic to bacteria.

The specific type of bacteria also helped to overcome the issue of porosity, one of the main obstacles to building habitats on Mars. "The bacteria seep deep into the pore spaces, using their own proteins to bind the particles together, decreasing porosity and leading to stronger bricks," explained Aloke Kumar, one of the senior authors of the paper.

Combined, this material can be used as a binding agent to hold Martian soil together and build habitats for future missions to the red planet. Currently, NASA estimates it will send humans to Mars by the 2030s, and SpaceX is hard at work on its fully reusable Starship launch vehicle, which it aims to send to the Moon and eventually to Mars. Next, the ISRO team aims to send some of their "bacteria bricks" into space on a future ISRO mission. By doing so, they will be able to study the properties of their material in microgravity to see if it is fit to make the long journey alongside future astronauts as they make their way to the red planet.

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