With Mars colonies scheduled for 2025 and 2030, NASA issued a challenge to researchers to find a way to build habitats on the planet. One group came up with a concrete mix that is out of this world.
A team from Northwestern University came up with a concrete mix which uses only materials available on Mars. The concrete does not use water or cement to trigger the chemical reactions in the traditional Earth mix.
There is no water on Mars, so instead, the mix calls for molten sulfur. There’s plenty of that on the Red Planet.
Sulfur concrete is nothing new. It’s made on Earth and has highly anti-corrosive properties so it’s used to protect items which are in acidic environments. But the Earth version is not as strong as traditional concrete.
Using simulated Martian soil from NASA, the sulfur concrete mixed by the Northwestern team was twice as strong as the Earth version. With the differences in gravity, the sulfur concrete would be equivalent in strength to the traditional concrete used to build skyscrapers on Earth.
But sulfur concrete has another big shortcoming. It doesn’t hold up well against fire because sulfur has a relatively low melting point.
Fire wouldn’t be much of a concern for initial habitats, which would be more concerned with damage from meteorites, but the team is working on ways to make the concrete fire resistant.
The ultimate plan would be to use a construction-sized 3D printer to create the building materials.
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