The main component is chitin – a fibrous substance that is a component of cell walls in fungi, the exoskeleton of crustaceans and insects, and the scales of fish and amphibians.
Chitin Researchers at the University of Singapore’s Institute of Technology and Design said that building a new material without special equipment and using less energy can be combined with surface soil by early Martian settlers.
The study states that chitin may come from insects for use on Mars. Given their high protein content, insects may become part of the diet for a Dalit mission. The authors stated that the extraction of chitin would be a byproduct of the food supply and consumption of the crew.
To test their theory, scientists designed chitosan, an organic polymer made of shrimp, and a mineral designed to mimic the properties of Martian soil.
Water and some basic chemistry are used in the manufacturing process. The study states that subsurface ice on Mars can be obtained. Sodium hydroxide can be made from Martian soil. And acetic acid can be made by fermentation of microorganisms – such as food waste.
The researchers then used the material to create a model of a wrench and a Martian habitat, which they said was demonstrated material that could enable rapid construction of objects such as original equipment and rigid shelters.
The wrench was not as strong as the one the scientists made of the metal, but Fernandez said it met NASA’s criteria for “non-critical space applications.”
Fernandez described the research as proof of concept. The team did not test objects under conditions that mimic Mars’ cold and dry environment.
“We have a route … from 3D printing to building construction to casting with just a single material to make equipment.”