A team of researchers suggests that we could use one of the most common organic polymers on Earth to build shelters on Mars.
The material, called chitin, is produced and metabolized by most biological organisms and makes up most of the cell walls in fungi, insect exoskeletons and fish scales.
The team, led by Javier Fernandez of the University of Technology and Design in Singapore, tried to make the material by combining a fiber made of chitin with a mineral material that mimics Martian soil. Using only basic tools and simple chemistry, the team was able to build a small-scale model of a Martian habitat, as detailed in the paper published in PLoS ONE this week.
The journey to Mars will define the next decades
“Working with simple chemistry techniques suitable for early Martian settlement, we produced Martian biolite using chitosan derived from the arthropod cuticle by treatment with sodium hydroxide, a component that can be obtained on Mars by electrolytic hydrolysis,” the team wrote in work to.
In simpler terms, the resulting material “feels like concrete, but much lighter,” Fernandez told CNN. “It’s basically a very light rock,” he added. “We have a way to make buildings with 3D printing tools, obtaining casting with a single material,” he added.
For Fernandez, bioinspired technologies could define “a new paradigm in production that allows us to do things that cannot be achieved by synthetic counterparts,” according to a communique. He also argues that these technologies “are essential not only for our sustainability on Earth, but also for one of humanity’s next great achievements: our transformation into an interplanetary species.”
If we get to Mars, we will not be able to take there everything that humanity needs to stay for a long time or to build colonies on the Red Planet. Therefore, we must think of ways to build there, with the materials that are available to us on the planet, if we want to spend as much time there as possible for exploration.