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For the first time, astronauts manufacture cement in space for future Mars and Moon colonies

For the first time, astronauts manufacture cement in space for future Mars and Moon colonies

According to new research, human beings can create habitats on the moon and Mars, thanks to concrete which is manufactured in space. Astronauts on the International Space Station have created cement for the first time in microgravity, successfully demonstrating that it can develop and harden in space. The study appears in the Frontiers in Materials journal. 

For construction purposes, concrete is a reliable building material. It is a mixture of rocks, sand and a combination of cement and water. As per the new study, it could also protect the astronauts from cosmic radiation and other dangers of living outside Earth. 

The equipment and human beings need protection from radiation and extremities in the temperature on missions to Mars and Moon. For this, infrastructures need to be built on these environments. Aleksandra Radlinska, principal investigator and assistant civil engineer professor said that the plan is to build with materials like concrete on space. Due to its sturdy nature, it provides better protection than many other materials. 

Concrete and mixtures similar to concrete can also be manufactured by local materials such as moon dust. If in the future, human beings are successful in establishing colonies on the Moon and Mars, then they can use local materials instead of receiving them from Earth which is quite expensive and time-consuming. 

In the study known as “Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification”, astronauts used water mixed with tricalcium silicate, the main component in commercial cement. This has never been created in microgravity. Cement might seem to be a simple material but its structure is quite complex. On dissolving in water, the cement crystals form and begin to fit together. This changes the molecular structure of the material. The aim of this study was to find out the formation of cement in microgravity along with the possible formation of unique microstructures. It was also possible to compare the samples made in space with that of Earth. 

The cement made in space had different microstructures than the one made on Earth. It was more porous than the Earth-made cement. Increased porosity has direct effects on the material’s strength, although the strength of the space-formed material has not been tested yet. Even for concrete which is used on Earth, all the aspects of the hydration process are not known clearly. Scientists will now check which aspects of the space-made concrete are beneficial and which are harmful for use in space. 

The process of conducting the experiments might have some effects on the study results. Cement on Earth is not processed in sealed packets like that on space. The cement made on space developed and hardened in the same way as that on Earth although it looked a bit different. Scientists would now work on the binders essential for space and for different gravity levels from 0 g to g on Mars. 

Journal Reference: Frontiers in Materials