Scientists say buildings on Mars can be made from a substance found in fish scales and fungi called chitin.
Chitin is one of the most ubiquitous organic polymers on Earth, and when mixed with Martian soil, it can be a material tough enough to build tools and shelters.
The organic polymer could be extracted on Mars through the biological conversion of organic waste by insects or fungi – which can be grown on farms.
In preliminary tests of the material, the experts constructed a wrench and mini model of a Martian habitat with the resilience of plastic.
Chitin could help NASA and private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which plan to establish human colonies on Mars in the next 20 years.
Researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design used the chitin to construct a wrench and model of a Martian habitat
“Bio-inspired manufacturing and sustainable materials are not a replacement technology for synthetic polymers, but a technology that defines a new paradigm in manufacturing,” said study author Dr. Javier Fernandez at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
“We have shown that they are critical not only to our sustainability on Earth, but also to one of humanity’s next greatest achievements: our transformation into an interplanetary species.”
Chitin is produced and metabolized by organisms in most biological realms.
It is a major constituent of fungal cell walls, the exoskeletons of arthropods such as crustaceans and insects, and the scales of fish and amphibians.
Chitin is the second most abundant organic polymer on Earth, after cellulose, and is “biology’s recurring solution for forming structural components,” say the experts.
In organic production, it is already used in food production to develop edible films and as a thickener.
The researchers’ technique, detailed in PLOS ONE, involves combining chitin with a mineral designed to mimic the soil of Mars, known as regolith.
Cast samples with various intricate geometries to demonstrate the material’s ability to replicate objects
On Mars, the rocky deposits can be placed in achitin solution with water from melted ice.
After evaporation of the water, the chitosan crystallizes, decreases in volume and contracts the regolith particles.
Chitin can form transparent objects that are similar in appearance and characteristics to plastics that are produced in large quantities on Earth.
The material requires little energy and no specialized equipment to produce, and could form homes and shelters, which would provide protection from intense solar radiation on the red plant.
‘The technology was originally developed to create circular ecosystems in urban environments, but its efficiency also makes it the most efficient and scalable method to produce materials in a closed artificial ecosystem in the extremely sparse environment of a lifeless planet or satellite,’ said Dr. Fernandez.
In terms of where the chitin would actually come from, astronauts could rely on their stash of insects that might already provide them with food.
A custom key has also been created by the experts, who say chitin is likely to be part of any artificial ecosystem
Insect farms could not only meet the caloric needs of the Mars inhabitants, but also provide a steady supply of chitin.
Such crucial technologies need to be decided quickly, as NASA plans to revisit the moon by the end of the 2020s and undertake a manned mission to Mars by the end of the 2030s.
SpaceX also plans to send two unmanned cargo ships to Mars by 2022 to set up support infrastructure and water mining systems there.
The first manned Mars mission could then follow as early as 2024 if development and testing goes well, Musk said.
Transporting people to Mars is all part of the CEO’s $ 23.6 billion belief that space travel is the only way to save humanity from extinction.
Its very entertaining research paper published in New Space entitled ‘Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species’, outlines the company’s vision.
NASA plans to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s after the first landing on the moon
Mars has become the next giant leap forward for human space exploration.
But before humans reach the red planet, astronauts will take a series of baby steps by returning to the moon for a year-long mission.
Details of the moon orbit mission have been revealed as part of a timeline of events leading up to missions to Mars in the 2030s.
NASA outlined its four-phase plan (pictured) that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars at the Humans to Mars Summit held yesterday in Washington DC. This will involve multiple missions to the moon over the coming decades
In May 2017, Greg Williams, deputy assistant administrator for policies and plans at NASA, outlined the space agency’s four-step plan that it hopes will one day allow humans to visit Mars, as well as its anticipated timetable.
Phase one and two will involve multiple trips to lunar space, to allow for the construction of a habitat that will be a gathering place for the trip.
The final piece of hardware provided would be the actual Deep Space Transport vehicle that would later be used to transport a crew to Mars.
And in 2027, a simulation of life on Mars will take place for a year.
Phases three and four will begin after 2030 and will include ongoing crew expeditions to the Mars system and the surface of Mars.