To build shelters and manufacture tools, astronauts only need to bring in one key ingredient that the minerals of lifeless Martian soil can do the rest, according to a new study published on Wednesday.
The main component is chitin (fibrous material, which is a component of the cell wall of fungi, the exoskeleton of crustaceans and insects, scales of fish and amphibians).
Chitin Researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design said that early Martian settlers could combine with surface soils to manufacture new materials with little energy and no special equipment.
Research suggests that chitin for use on Mars can come from insects. Due to its high protein content, insects can form part of their diet for crew missions. The authors said chitin extraction would be a byproduct of the crew’s food supply and consumption.
To test the theory, scientists combined chitosan, an organic polymer made from shrimp, and a mineral designed to mimic the properties of Martian soil.
The manufacturing process used water and some basic chemicals. Research suggests that water can be obtained from Mars’ underground ice. Sodium hydroxide can be made in Martian soil. And acetic acid can be made by fermentation of microorganisms such as food waste.
The researchers used this material to create a wrench and a model of the Martian habitat, which they said have demonstrated that the material can quickly manufacture objects such as basic tools and hard shelters.
Wrenches made by scientists weren’t as strong as wrenches made of metal, but Fernandes said they met NASA’s standards for “non-core space applications.”
Fernandez described the study as a proof of concept. The team did not test the item in conditions that mimic Mars’ cold, dry atmosphere.
“We have a way to make buildings from 3D printing to mold casting with just one material.”