A simple manufacturing technology based on chitin, one of the most widely found organic polymers on Earth, could be used to build tools and shelters on Mars.
Now that humanity is planning to revisit the lunar surface and finally send a manned mission to Mars, the possibility that future space exploration missions will involve a longer stay is not far from reality.
Everywhere on Earth and now and in space
However, these stays will only be possible if the necessary conditions for survival are ensured. And to do this, to meet basic needs, we have at our disposal a material found everywhere: chitin.
Chitin is produced and metabolized by organisms in most biological kingdoms: it is a major component of fungal cell walls, arthropod exoskeletons such as crustaceans and insects, and scales of fish and amphibians. Due to its ubiquity, chitin will be able to be part of any artificially created ecosystem.
In a new study, Javier Fernandez of the University of Technology and Design in Singapore, and colleagues used simple techniques to extract and manufacture new material with minimal energy requirements and without specialized equipment.
They created this material by combining chitosan with a mineral designed to mimic the properties of Martian soil.
Scientists then used the chitinous material to build a tool – a wrench – and a Martian habitat model, proving that this material allows the rapid manufacture of objects, from basic tools to shelters that could house people in a Martian environment.
According to the authors, this approach may be the key to our development as an interplanetary species.
“Contrary to general perception, bioinspired production and sustainable materials are not a technology for substituting synthetic polymers, but a technology that allows the definition of a new paradigm in manufacturing and allows the achievement of things that can not be achieved by synthetic counterparts.
We have shown that this is the key not only to sustainability on Earth, but also to one of humanity’s greatest achievements: our transformation into an interplanetary species, “Fernandez said.
According to the team that created the material, the technology was initially developed to create circular ecosystems in the urban environment, but its proven efficiency has led to the expansion of its area of use.