UCF, NASA uses Martian soil to build habitat

It’s hard enough to transport humans to Mars. But once they get there, where will they live?

A University of Central Florida professor is working with NASA to figure out a way to extract metals from the Martian soil – metals that could be fed into a 3-D printer to produce the components of a human habitat, ship parts, tools, and electronics.

It’s essentially using additive-manufacturing techniques to make constructible blocks. UCF is collaborating with NASA to understand the science behind it confirmed Pegasus Professor Sudipta Seal, who is interim chair of UCF’s Materials Science and Engineering program, and director of the university’s Advanced Materials Processing & Analysis Center and NanoScience Technology Center.

NASA and Seal will research a process called molten regolith electrolysis, a technique similar to how metal ores are refined here on Earth. Astronauts would be able to feed Martian soil – known as regolith – into a chamber. Once heated to nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the electrolysis process would produce oxygen and molten metals, both of which are vital to the success of future human space exploration. Seal’s expertise also will help determine the form those metals should be in that’s most suitable for commercial 3-D printers.

NASA is already working on sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s. The agency has begun developing plans for life-support systems and other technology.