Human colonies on Mars would be made with proteins in blood and sweet, tears or urine.
There’s been much speculation about taking human life to Mars, especially now with the “boom” of commercial aircraft going into space.
Of course, this is probably a far-off scenario, but studies published in Materials Today Bio journal show that building colonies on Mars or the Moon can be done with blood, urine, sweat and tears and dust – literally!
When you ask “where did this idea come from? “, I’ll answer “the University of Manchester”, so there is substance to the thought. Additionally, here’s something you mightn’t know…
The substance they used as concrete in the Middle Ages contained animal blood, so this strange-sounding concept actually isn’t new.
“Scientists have long been trying to develop viable technologies to make concrete-like materials on Mars, but we didn’t stop to think that the answer might be right inside us all along,” said Dr Aled Roberts, the materials engineer who signed the study.
Scientists have created a material that is in some ways even more powerful than ordinary concrete, using simulated regolith (the layer that covers a rock on Mars and the Moon), mixed with proteins from human blood, as well as compounds found in urine, tears, and sweat.
Research has previously indicated that regolith can be a great building material, but the process would still require some materials to “glue” it.
It is important to point out that the mixture is not “blood or urine,” but “blood and urine,” which means we need all those ingredients to make the “soup.” And we need to convince the astronauts to donate first.
Despite what might seem my lighthearted tone, this research has a long background of importance: because our ordinary concrete does not behave well in space and so if we’re motivated to successfully build on Mars, we’ll need to be really creative with materials.
The cost of transporting a single brick to the red planet has been estimated at US$2 million, meaning future human colonists cannot transport materials with them, and so will have to utilise resources they can get on-site for construction and shelter.
Any crewed mission to Mars must account for every gram of the rocket’s payload capacity, and the crew members must always be accounted for first.
It would be much more convenient and cost-effective if we already had the materials at hand (or in our veins, or in our urinary ducts, or in our sweat) when we got there.
The science behind this shows urea, an enzyme produced in the liver, filtered by our excretory system and eliminated when we ‘pee’, helps to give a plasticising effect to concrete, making it less porous and therefore harder to break.
The material created by Roberts and the other scientists, called “Astrocrete” (yes, “Astro” and “concrete”) also makes use of albumin, a protein found in blood plasma, to “glue” the simulated regolith, giving it a compressive strength of up to 25 Mega-pascals – whereas normal concrete does not exceed 22.
They then added urea to the compound, extending the strength to an incredible 39.7 MPa.
Researchers say human serum albumin produced by astronauts could be extracted in vivo by semi-continuous methods and combined with lunar or Martian regolith to reformulate the proverb, they say and the scientists estimate that in just over two years, six humans could donate enough albumin for the creation of 500kg of “astrocyte”.
But wait a sec: please don’t start relieving yourself in a bag of cement to sell it to Nasa. Not only was the experiment done in a controlled environment (with specimen collection – it’s worth mentioning), we haven’t yet discovered the effects of continuous body fluid donation in altered gravity or high radiation environments (two characteristics that describe Mars very well) so there’s still much research to do.
However, while the studies seem promising, scientists believe this may be ok for short-term use (for example, when no other alternatives are available). More advanced technologies are hoped to fulfil this part of establishing our colonies on Mars in the future.
Astrocrete may not generate the sort of futuristic, expanses-of-glass habitats we’ve seen in sci-fi movies, but it could solve the problem of developing construction materials on Mars.
Isn’t it such a bloody good idea?