Thanks to a NASA grant, the University of Southern California’s Dr. Behrok Khoshnevis is designing robotic machines that could build landing pads, hangars, and roads out of the Martian soil, literally paving the way for human exploration in the decades ahead. The method of construction Khoshnevis researches is called “contour construction” which uses 3-D printing technology to–perhaps one day–mold dirt on the surface of Mars into infrastructure needed by humans to travel and store vehicles. Last month, NASA released a simulation of what this might actually look like in space.
What’s the Big Idea?
A potential breakthrough in construction lies in Mars’ sulfur-rich soil, containing four times as much sulfur as the Earth’s surface. Khoshnevis discovered that the material could be used to bond jagged pieces of space rock which, because they have not been subject to the refining ecosystems of Earth, remain hard and abrasive. On the other hand, the comparative lack of gravity on Mars means that any infrastructure which is built has a good chance of lasting a long time. Vexing questions still remain, such as what would happen if a piece of construction equipment broke down with a repairman 35 million miles away?