Space

Using Astronaut Blood and Space Dust To Make Cosmic Concrete – For Affordable Housing on Mars

Moon and Mars Biocomposites

Moon and mars biocomposites. Credit: University of Manchester

Transporting a single brick to Mars can cost more than a million British pounds – making the future construction of a Martian colony seem prohibitively expensive. Scientists at The University of Manchester have now developed a way to potentially overcome this problem, by creating a concrete-like material made of extra-terrestrial dust along with the blood, sweat, and tears of astronauts.

In their study, published in Materials Today Bio, a protein from human blood, combined with a compound from urine, sweat, or tears, could glue together simulated moon or Mars soil to produce a material stronger than ordinary concrete, perfectly suited for construction work in extra-terrestrial environments.

3D-printed mars biocomposite. Credit: University of Manchester

The cost of transporting a single brick to Mars has been estimated at about US$2 million, meaning future Martian colonists cannot bring their building materials with them, but will have to utilize resources they can obtain on-site for construction and shelter. This is known as in-situ resource utilization (or ISRU) and typically focuses on the use of loose rock and Martian soil (known as regolith) and sparse water deposits. However, there is one overlooked resource that will, by definition, also be available on any crewed mission to the Red Planet: the crew themselves.

In an article published on September 10, 2021, in the journal Materials Today Bio, scientists demonstrated that a common protein from blood plasma – human serum albumin – could act as a binder for simulated moon or Mars dust to produce a concrete-like material. The resulting novel material, termed AstroCrete, had compressive strengths as high as 25 MPa (Megapascals), about the same as the 20–32 MPa seen in ordinary concrete.

However, the scientists found that incorporating urea – which is a biological waste product that the body produces and excretes through urine, sweat, and tears – could further increase the compressive strength by over 300%, with the best performing material having a compressive strength of almost 40 MPa, substantially stronger than ordinary concrete.

“Scientists have been trying to develop viable technologies to produce concrete-like materials on the surface of Mars, but we never stopped to think that the answer might be inside us all along.”

Dr. Aled Roberts

Dr. Aled Roberts, from The University of Manchester, who worked on the project, said that the new technique holds considerable advantages over many other proposed construction techniques on the moon and Mars.

“Scientists have been trying to develop viable technologies to produce concrete-like materials on the surface of Mars, but we never stopped to think that the answer might be inside us all along,” he said.

The scientists calculate that over 500 kg of high-strength AstroCrete could be produced over the course of a two-year mission on the surface of Mars by a crew of six astronauts. If used as a mortar for sandbags or heat-fused regolith bricks, each crew member could produce enough AstroCrete to expand the habitat to support an additional crew member, doubling the housing available with each successive mission.

Animal blood was historically used as a binder for mortar. “It is exciting that a major challenge of the space age may have found its solution based on inspirations from medieval technology,” said Dr. Roberts.

The scientists investigated the underlying bonding mechanism and found that the blood proteins denature, or “curdle,” to form an extended structure with interactions known as “beta sheets” that tightly holds the material together.

“The concept is literally blood-curdling,” Dr. Roberts explained.

Reference: “Blood, sweat and tears: extraterrestrial regolith biocomposites with in vivo binders” by Aled D. Roberts, Dominic R. Whittall, Rainer Breitling, Eriko Takano, Jonny J. Blaker, Sam Hay and Nigel S. Scrutton, 10 September 2021, Materials Today Bio.
DOI: 10.1016/j.mtbio.2021.100136

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  • I think the arrogance of this is astounding. How about putting the focus and funding in this "far out idea towards ACHIEVING HABITAL HOUSING FOR THE INHABITANTS OF EARTH. Yet another example of a 21st century version of Tower of Babel. I agree our scientists have made wonderful achievements and advances but I see within our body of knowledge, we clearly don't know what we don't know. Proceed at our own peril!!

    • Arrogance, OUTRIGHT stupidity AND insipient BLINDNESS. We should be researching solutions to the very real "problems" facing EARTH in the next two decades; rising/degraded Oceans and a rapidly deteriorating atmosphere, to name but two.
      How ABSOLUTELY NOVEL: to build off-world "structures" with Human blood, sweat and tears. Been there, DONE that right here on Earth. It's HISTORY, just like "Space Technologies" based on "GIZMO-THINK" and literal Pie-in-the-SKY paradigms contingent on capital-based, BRAIN FART "technologies", more than adequately demonstrated by Elon Musk's "bad idea x 20K launches = PROGRESS" approach to "SPACE". It is, in that instance (and this instance) indicative of the empty (((SPACE))) between SOME people's EARS.
      IN DEED, if ONE is thinking in terms of "Brick and Mortar", and the COST of transporting said to MARS, ONE has missed the POINT and substituted the POINT on ONE'S HEAD in the exchange. Cost accounting, OBSOLETED TECHNOLOGIES and OBSOLETED ways of DOUBLE-THINKING will preclude that TRIP. Any SOUL arriving on Mars via that EGO TRIP will, in short SHRIFT, be SWEATING Blood, [actual] Sweat, AND Tears; pissing-up a Storm and Losing Hair in the BARGAIN of profit-based HEGE-MONY-IES. How EVER ONE "pinches" that LOAF, there is no advantage in a FAILED PARADIGM.

      FYI: As my Stone Mason ancestors knew (for more than a Millennium) adding Ox Blood and horse hair to the mortar mix added dimensional and tensile strength to the BOND. It was a technically BRILLIANT and ecologically sound method of recycling "waste" draft animals toward a significant gain in purpose, viability and intention. Our current "toss it-and-LOSS column-BOOK it" technologies will, ultimately, BANKRUPT THIS (one-and-only) World, with no appreciable gain.
      'NUFF SAID.
      🦋

  • They should just makes their homes from human dung which has another name we cannot say here, and then they can live in their sh__ hole house. It won't smell though since they will have to wear space suits till they figure the next problem of air supply and the food supply and so on.

    This notion of settling on Mars is not a repeat of the great exodus of Europeans to the Americas hundreds of years ago. It is more like the King emptying the treasury and skipping town to live in a private hell hole for no good reason.

    Bezos was right, before trying for Mars, first build your city at the top of Mt Everest, the idiocy of it will settle in pretty soon. Also remember the Arizona Earth 2 greenhouse project in the 80s which failed in a matter of days even while still firmly planted on Earth 1.0.

    Manchester University has dropped itself in the sh1th0le list of colleges on this one.

  • Human blood? OK, time to forget about Mars for awhile. How long would it take to donate enough pints to build a house?

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University of Manchester

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