The age of extraterrestrial masonry is upon us, as scientists tinker with manufacturing bricks from the simulated dirt of our neighboring worlds. The goal is to save future astronauts the trouble of hauling heavy building materials from Earth to build their frontier homes, freeing them up to live off the alien land.
Those interested in relocating to the Moon, for instance, might be interested in a new 3D-printing technique that transforms faux-moondust into sturdy bricks using the power of the Sun. The research was conducted at the DLR German Aerospace Center in Cologne, and is featured in any the European Space Agency (ESA) video released on Wednesday.
Moon bricks being produced in a solar furnace. Video: European Space Agency/YouTube
The bricks are made from a commercial lunar simulant that mimics the composition, texture, and grain size of real dirt collected from the Moon. To make them, researchers bake tiny layers of the moondust in a solar furnace that uses 147 curved mirrors to concentrate sunlight into a searing beam. Sometimes, they cheat by using xenon lamps as a heat source, but only because "the weather in northern Europe does not always cooperate" with the demand for bounteous sunshine, according to an ESA statement.
Either way, the moondust layers are subjected to temperatures reaching 1,000℃, which melts them into a solid brick structure with a compressive strength comparable to gypsum.
Moondust isn't the only extraterrestrial material that could be used to churn out the building blocks of our future off-Earth homesteads. UC San Diego scientists have successfully compressed Martian regolith simulant into bricks, while other researchers are pursuing the use of biological substances—such as microbes, bones, mushrooms, and urine—as potential fodder for cinderblocks, or building robots that could 3D print structures on the Moon or Mars.
There is much more work to be done before humans will be in a position to harvest the landscapes of our nearby worlds to build rustic condominiums. But it doesn't hurt to have a head start, especially one that involves solar-seared moondust and mushroom tents.
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