A simple manufacturing technology based on chitin, one of the most ubiquitous organic polymers on earth, could be used to build tools and shelters on Mars, according to a study published on September 1
With plans to revisit the lunar surface and eventually send a crewed mission to Mars, future space exploration missions will likely include an extended stay. For such missions, or perhaps even settlements, survival requires the satisfaction of basic human needs. One material that could be used to meet these needs is chitin, which is produced and metabolized by organisms in most biological realms. Chitin is a major component of the cell walls of fungi, the exoskeletons of arthropods such as crustaceans and insects, and the scales of fish and amphibians. Because of its ubiquity, chitin will likely be part of an artificial ecosystem.
In the new study, Fernandez and colleagues used simple chemistry appropriate for early Mars colonization to extract and manufacture a new material with minimal energy requirements and without special equipment. They made this material by combining chitosan with a mineral that mimics the properties of the Martian soil. The authors then used the chitinous material to construct a wrench and model of a habitat on Mars. This showed that this material enables the rapid manufacture of objects, ranging from simple tools to perhaps even rigid shelters, that could support humans in a Martian environment. According to the authors, this approach could be the key to our development as an interplanetary species.
Dr. Fernandez notes, “Contrary to popular belief, bio-inspired manufacturing and sustainable materials are not a replacement technology for synthetic polymers, but rather a technology that defines a new paradigm in manufacturing and enables things to be done that cannot be achieved by their synthetic counterparts. Here we have shown that they are critical not only to our sustainability on Earth, but also to one of the next greatest achievements of humankind: our transformation into an interplanetary species. “
Fernandez continues: “The technology was originally developed to create circular ecosystems in urban settings. However, because of its efficiency, it is also the most efficient and scalable method for creating materials in a closed artificial ecosystem in the extremely scarce environment of an inanimate planet or Satellite. ”
The team develops a missing link to the circular economy while fighting global waste
Shiwei N., Dritsas S., Fernandez JG (2020) Mars-Biolith: A Bio-inspired Regolith Composite for Extra-Terrestrial Closed-Loop Manufacturing. PLUS ONE 15 (9): e0238606. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0238606
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