Astronauts on board the International Space Station, for the first have successfully mixed cement in the micro-gravity of space.
Experiments have taken place aboard the International Space Station to study cement based concrete in microgravity.
When humans go to the Moon or Mars to stay, they will need to construct safe places in which to live and work. The most widely used building material on Earth, concrete, may be the answer. It is strong and durable enough to provide protection from cosmic radiation and meteorites and it may be possible to make it using materials available on these celestial bodies.
Concrete is a mixture of sand, gravel and rocks glued together with a paste made of water and cement powder. While that sounds simple, the process is quite complex, and scientists still have questions about the chemistry and microscopic structures involved and how changes in gravity may affect the process.
A recent investigation on the International Space Station examined cement solidification in microgravity to help answer those questions. For the Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS) project, researchers mixed tricalcium silicate (C3S) and water outside of Earth’s gravity for the first time. The main mineral component of most commercially available cement, C3S controls many of its chemical reactions and properties. MICS explored whether solidifying cement in microgravity would result in unique microstructures and provided a first comparison of cement samples processed on the ground and in microgravity.
Editor: Michael Johnson
Image credit NASA
The investigators reported their results in a paper published in Frontiers in Materials, “Microgravity Effect on Microstructural Development of Tri-calcium Silicate (C3S) Paste.”
“On missions to the Moon and Mars, humans and equipment will need to be protected from extreme temperatures and radiation, and the only way to do that is by building infrastructures on these extraterrestrial environments,” said principal investigator Aleksandra Radlinska of Pennsylvania State University. “One idea is building with a concrete-like material in space. Concrete is very sturdy and provides better protection than many materials.”