In what may be the gnarliest scientific proposal of the week, researchers have suggested that future Martian bases could be built from bricks made of astronaut blood, sweat, tears, and urine, according to a study published on Monday in the journal Materials Today Bio.
Led by Aled D. Roberts, a research scientist at the University of Manchester, the study test-drives this novel approach to cutting costs on human trips to Mars that treats astronauts as just another onsite resource.
“The proverbial phrase ‘you can't get blood from a stone’ is used to describe a task that is practically impossible regardless of how much force or effort is exerted,” Roberts and his team said in the study. “This phrase is well-suited to humanity’s first crewed mission to Mars, which will likely be the most difficult and technologically challenging human endeavor ever undertaken.”
After noting that these missions will need to capitalize on Martian resources, as opposed to hauling Earth supplies to Mars, the researchers eerily add that “there is one significant, but chronically overlooked, source of natural resources that will—by definition—also be available on any crewed mission to Mars: the crew themselves.”
In particular, Roberts and his colleagues focus on compounds in the human body that could strengthen bricks made primarily from Martian regolith, which is the dusty surface layer of the red planet. The researchers created test versions of this material, which they call “AstroCrete,” that include the protein albumin from human blood plasma, as well as urea, a compound in human sweat, tears, and urine.
AstroCrete would boost the compressive strength of regolith blocks by more than 300 percent, and could be 3D-printed on Mars, according to the team’s calculations and experiments. The new research also estimates that a crew of Martian astronauts could produce about 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of these blood bricks within a two year period, providing an ongoing source of construction material for long-duration missions to Mars.
This method has potential drawbacks, including the risk of bad health outcomes from constantly donating plasma in a low-gravity environment. But Roberts and his colleagues are optimistic that AstroCrete could eventually support interplanetary missions, and are interested in experimenting with other human resources for this purpose.
“Other in-situ human resources, such as hair and nails (keratin), dead skin cells (collagen), mucus, urine and human faeces could also be exploited for their material properties on early extraterrestrial colonies,” the team said, adding that “unfortunately, due to health and safety concerns, we were unable to explore human faeces-based [extraterrestrial regolith biocomposites] in this study.”
So if you are a Martian enthusiast who longs to live on the red planet one day, be ready to literally bleed for your dream.