A new research now finds that concrete made in space could one day help humans build habitats on the moon and on Mars. Astronauts made cement for the first time in microgravity as part of a recent investigation aboard the International Space Station. With the experiment they showed that cement can harden and develop in space. The research was published April 24 in the journal Frontiers In Materials.
Concrete, a mixture of sand, rocks ravel and a combination of water and cement powder is a strong and reliable building material here on Earth.
Researchers in the new study have now said that it could also be a durable enough material to protect future astronauts from cosmic radiation and some of the dangers that come with living in space.
Speaking about the same, lead author of the study Aleksandra Radlinska, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Penn State, said in a statement from NASA that while on missions to the Moon and Mars, humans and equipment will need to be protected from extreme temperatures and radiation, and the only way to do that is by building infrastructures on these extraterrestrial environments. He further added that one idea is to build with a concrete-like material in space.
According to the researchers, if and when humans establish colonies in outer space, the colonists would be able to use local materials instead of having them sent from Earth, which would be a difficult, time-consuming and costly process.
The study, called the Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification project, saw astronauts on the space station mixing water with tricalcium silicate, the main mineral ingredient in some of the most commonly used commercial cements. This mixture had never been created in microgravity.
The investigation aimed to demonstrate and explain how cement forms in microgravity and if any unique microstructures might form. Notably, the project also allowed for the first-ever comparison between cement samples created on Earth and cement samples created in space.
According to the NASA statement, when researchers on Earth compared the cement samples made on Earth with the cement samples made in space, they found that the cement created on the space station had very different microstructures than the cement made on Earth. One of the main differences noticed by the researchers was that cement made in space was much more porous than the Earth-made cement.
Speaking about the same, Radlinska said that while increased porosity has direct bearing on the strength of the material, the scientists are yet to measure the strength of the space-formed material.
The scientist says that they now know that there are some differences between Earth- and space-based systems and can take the next steps to find binders that are specific for space and for variable levels of gravity, from zero to that in Mars and in between.