Researchers from the University of Manchester find a way to build bricks on Mars using astronaut’s blood, sweat and tears, according to a paper published in the journal Materials Today Bio (1). These bodily waste materials are then combined with Mars dust to create a material stronger than concrete.
Building a colony on Mars is a dream. However, carrying all the necessary building material is proving to be a nightmare. It’s estimated that taking bricks to the red planet could cost more than two million dollars, making any colony on Mars virtually impossible to build.
Until now. Instead of carrying materials from Earth, researchers from the University of Manchester, UK, have devised a way to create a material similar to concrete while on Mars, made from extra-terrestrial dust mixed with blood, sweat and tears of astronauts. Literally.
They discovered that a protein present in human blood – human serum albumin – can be mixed with urea present in bodily waste like urine, sweat or tears, to work perfectly as a glue to bind together Mars soil. According to the team, thanks to the serum albumin and urea, the resultant product (which they named AstroCrete) is stronger than regular concrete and can be used for construction work.
The system works because the blood proteins denature – or “curdle” in colloquial terms – to form a skeleton-like structure to hold the rest of the materials together. “The concept is literally blood-curdling,” joked Dr Roberts from the University of Manchester.
This new approach has many advantages over other proposals to build a colony on the moon and Mars. “Scientists have been trying to develop viable technologies to produce concrete-like materials on the surface of Mars, but we never stopped to think that the answer might be inside us all along”, said Dr Roberts.
Using this method, a team of six astronauts could build over 500kg of high-strength AstroCrete over the course of a two-year mission on the surface of Mars. This would be enough to build accommodation for an extra six crew members, doubling housing capacity with each mission.
Curiously, animal blood was used as a binder for mortar during medieval times. “It is exciting that a major challenge of the space age may have found its solution based on inspirations from medieval technology”, concluded Dr Roberts.
(1) Roberts A, Whittall D, Breitling R, Takano E, Blaker J, Hay S, Scrutton N (2021) Blood, sweat and tears: extraterrestrial regolith biocomposites with in vivo binders. Materials Today Bio, https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S2590006421000442