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University of Manchester scientists create ‘cosmic concrete’ from space dust and astronaut blood, The Manc

University of Manchester scientists create ‘cosmic concrete’ from space dust and astronaut blood

The material – which has compressive strengths as high as 25 MPa – has been aptly-named AstroCrete.

Did you know that transporting a single brick to Mars can cost more than a million pounds?

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This makes the future construction of a Martian colony seem so expensive that it will likely never be pulled off – but now, scientists at The University of Manchester have developed a way to potentially overcome this problem.

By creating a concrete-like material that’s made of extra-terrestrial dust along with the blood, sweat and tears of astronauts.

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As mad as it sounds, it’s absolutely true.

In the Manchester-based scientists’ study – which was published today in Materials Today Bio – it’s revealed that a protein from human blood, combined with a compound from urine, sweat or tears, could glue together simulated moon or Mars soil to produce a material stronger than ordinary concrete – which is perfectly suited for construction work in extra-terrestrial environments.

So how does it actually work then? Well, to get a little more into the complexity of it all, scientists have basically demonstrated that a common protein from blood plasma, known as human serum albumin, could act as a binder for simulated moon or Mars dust to produce a concrete-like material.

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The resulting material – which has compressive strengths as high as 25 MPa – has been aptly-named AstroCrete.

University of Manchester scientists create ‘cosmic concrete’ from space dust and astronaut blood, The Manc
Scientists have created a concrete-like material that’s made of extra-terrestrial dust with the blood, sweat and tears of astronauts / Credit: The University of Manchester

However, the scientists found that by incorporating urea – which is a biological waste product that the body produces and excretes through urine, sweat and tears – this could further increase the compressive strength of the material by over 300%.

This means that the best-performing material could eventually have a compressive strength of almost 40 MPa – substantially stronger than ordinary concrete.

Dr Aled Roberts, from The University of Manchester, who worked on the project, said that the new technique holds considerable advantages over many other proposed construction techniques on the moon and Mars, adding that: “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.”

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The scientists have calculated that over 500 kg of high-strength AstroCrete could be produced over the course of a two-year mission on the surface of Mars by a crew of six astronauts.

If used as a mortar for sandbags or heat-fused regolith bricks, each crew member could produce enough AstroCrete to expand the habitat to support an additional crew member, doubling the housing available with each successive mission.

University of Manchester scientists create ‘cosmic concrete’ from space dust and astronaut blood, The Manc
The material – named AstroCrete – was developed at The University of Manchester / Credit: The University of Manchester

“It is exciting that a major challenge of the space age may have found its solution based on inspirations from medieval technology,” Dr Roberts continued.

The scientists investigated the underlying bonding mechanism and found that the blood proteins denature, or “curdle”, to form an extended structure with interactions known as “beta sheets” that tightly holds the material together.

“The concept is literally blood-curdling,”Dr Roberts explained.

Featured Image – The University of Manchester

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