Are There Bricks on Mars?

Are There Bricks on Mars?

09th May 2017

Last year we published a series of articles on bricks, the humble building blocks that were first manufactured as long ago as 7,500 BC. We discovered some facts about bricks, from how they’re made, surprising ways of making them and new types of brick.

Bricks made from blood, how to grow bricks and even how brick walls are being targeted by thieves!  We’ve now come across some more fascinating news about bricks and what they could be made from in future when space travel becomes more common.

It seems that research by a team of engineers at the University of California have been experimenting with making bricks from the soil found on Mars!  NASA has been looking for ways of using lunar and Martian soil to build habitats for some years so that when humankind is ready to make the move to other planets, they can use the resources they find there, rather than transport building materials from planet Earth.  One of the major obstacles we face when considering establishing colonies on other planets is that everything we would need to live and support life would have to be transported from Earth, an expensive proposition that has seemed insurmountable and far too costly until recently.

Engineers have now managed to create building bricks out of a NASA certified soil simulant.  Martian soil (or regolith, which is the correct term for the layer of loose material that covers solid rock on any planet, including Earth).  We all know that earth-bound bricks have traditionally been made from clay, a type of soil that’s pretty common on our planet.  It seems that the soil on Mars is quite different than the soil on Earth and the particles don’t stick together when compressed unless they’re heated to a really high temperature (unlike clay bricks which can be sun-dried where necessary). 

Achieving the temperatures needed to fire bricks made from Martian soil would take massive efforts, and using polymers would be impractical due to the transportation costs.  So the team of engineers at University of California recreated Martian soil and then began reducing the number of polymer binders in the samples until they managed to avoid using polymers altogether.  Eventually, they squeezed everything together tightly with a piston press and the iron oxide particles in the simulated Martian soil bonded under the force of pressure.

In March, Donald Trump signed an order directing NASA to send astronauts to mars in 2033 and NASA has already begun to address the problem of how to build living spaces on the red planet with minimal resources.  In preparation for this, NASA plans to carry out “proving ground” missions to test new capabilities and engineers and scientists are already at work to develop the technologies that astronauts will need to live and work on Mars in the future.