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Mud from Mars and molten dirt from the moon: Here's how NASA will build permanent extraterrestrial structures - voila! technology

2023-05-28T08:02:21.259Z

Highlights: NASA's MMPACT team plans to build permanent and sustainable structures on the moon and later on Mars. The team is experimenting with various compounds of basalt, calcium, iron, magnesium and a mineral called anorite. The Artemis missions will land near the south pole of the moon, where the earth may contain ice, which will wet the future construction material. The plan is even to build blast protectors for the launch pads of spacecraft launched from the moon in 2027.. How to turn molten dirt into a building material strong enough for a structure suitable for human habitation is something NASA is still thinking about.


Structures printed from Martian mud, and melting lunar dirt into structures, launch pads and shields – this is how a special NASA team tackles the monumental task: how to erect permanent structures on the moon?


Mars (Photo: AP)

When the first humans reach Mars, they will have a problem. On Mars there is nothing. But nothing: no screws, no building materials, no hammers and no pickaxes. What the astronauts will bring with them is what will serve them in building an initial shelter, which will then become a home as well. At a distance of 225 million kilometers, it's not like you can pop into the nearest Home Depot branch and make completions if something is missing.

This is exactly what NASA's special task force, known as MMPACT, stands for Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technology. This team is studying, preparing and designed to tackle the task of the first construction projects on planets other than Earth. Their first mission is scheduled for 2027, when the human race returns to the moon.

Dirt from the moon - the road to permanent human structures (Photo: NASA)

City on the Moon

Under the Artemis program, astronauts returning to the moon will initially live on a lander or inflatable living facility. But the MMPACT team plans to build permanent and sustainable structures on the Moon and later on Mars. Instead of transporting construction materials to the moon, which would require enormous rockets and fuel reserves, the MMPACT team is going to use the existing dirt on the lunar surface, turning it into a paste that can be fed into a 2027D printer, which will convert it into units that can be used as bricks.

In <>, a robotic arm with an excavator, attached to the side of the landing vehicle, will sort and pile dirt from the moon, among other things, using semi-automatic machines or robots, which will build dwellings, roads, greenhouses and even a power plant from the lunar soil to supply electricity, in what will likely become the first city on the moon. The plan is even to build blast protectors for the launch pads of spacecraft launched from the moon.

The first step toward that vision, including lasers that will melt the moon's dirt, explains Jennifer Edmonson, NASA's chief of staff. The idea is to perforate the material so that it resembles a sponge in texture, and then it can be printed and sculpted into different shapes. How to turn molten dirt into a building material strong enough for a structure suitable for human habitation is something NASA is still thinking about, and there are several reasons for this:

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First, the Artemis missions will land near the south pole of the moon, where the earth may contain ice, which is not good - ice turns into water that will wet the future construction material. Second, it's the fact that the crew doesn't have that much lunar soil to play with and understand better. It's not that NASA has large amounts of it or lunar rocks, just valuable samples brought back by astronauts from recent Apollo missions.

So the MMPACT team will have to improvise, and create a synthetic compound for construction, if you want moon concrete, out of the foundations that can be found there. The team is experimenting with various compounds of basalt, calcium, iron, magnesium and a mineral called anorite, which is not at all a natural mineral on Earth, but according to the best of the space agency's understanding, is found on the moon. The material is currently being developed and manufactured synthetically for NASA in collaboration with the Colorado School of Mining.

The Artemis missions will land near the moon's south pole, where the earth may contain ice. Archive(Photo: GettyImages)

When building on the lunar surface, there are a few other small things that can go wrong: gravity is lower, and there is a risk of "moon tremors," the lunar equivalent of earthquakes here that can last as long as 45 minutes, not to mention the not very favorable temperature differences: from 54 degrees Celsius during the day to minus 200 degrees Celsius at night. Violent moon dust can also damage machines and spacesuits, and the agency says that during the Apollo missions, the moon dust the astronauts inhaled caused hay fever-like symptoms.

In 2024, Edmonson's team will begin experiments with smelting lunar rocks and soil with lasers and microwave beams in vacuum chambers, in preparation for their mission in 2027, along with working with commercial companies hired to develop buildings and cities on the moon.

In 2024, Edmonson's team will begin experiments with smelting rocks and lunar soil (Photo: Screenshot/NASA)

The Mud of Mars

And if, in the case of the moon, the crew at least has concrete examples to work with, that's not the case with Mars. Here the team is required to work with purely theoretical knowledge for the simple reason that no one has ever been on Mars to bring dirt samples from there... The only representative of humanity on Mars who has so far managed to grab a piece of rock from Mars and drill into it is the robot Perseverance, which is on the surface of Mars, but is not expected to return to Earth anytime soon.

So Icon, a private company hired by the agency to solve the architectural problems of structures on other planets, had to create synthetic Martian soil based on approximation and evaluation of the materials it contains, such as the fact that it is rich in basalt. They even managed to mimic the reddish-brown hue that gave the star its name.

Icon built, or rather printed for NASA, an experimental structure called the "Mars Alpha Dune," made of converted and hardened pulp layers of what is supposed to be the Martian soil, including a roof that was also 2023D-printed, to mimic the tools that would be available to astronauts arriving on the Red Planet for the first time.
Next month (June 160), a four-person crew will enter a hangar at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where the Mars Alpha Dune, the MMPACT's first construction project, was built and will stay there for an entire year. Living in the "Alpha Mars Dune" includes staff quarters, shared living space, a clinic and a food farm – with a total area of approximately <> square meters.

Not only will the crew (presumably composed of astronauts) experience living conditions that simulate living on Mars in zero conditions (without coffee and pastry and without Netflix), but the participants' physical and mental health will also be monitored to assess: What will happen to people who move to Mars?

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Source: walla

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