(TMU) — The race to colonize space and build a moon base has received renewed attention since the development of Space Force with NASA submitting a new plan for sustained lunar development just last week.
But one of the persistent sticking points has been infrastructure and the myriad challenges involved in supporting human life in an environment where energy production, radiation shielding, and even waste disposal are all problematic.
Specifically, scientists have wrestled with the difficultly of transporting heavy equipment and materials to the Moon. The question has produced a very weird alternative. A team of European researchers, in association with the European Space Agency (ESA), are discussing an idea of using astronauts’ urine as a “plasticizer” that can help lunar construction.
That’s right, scientists actually believe urea, the major organic compound found in human urine, could help shape hard materials needed for the construction of a Moon base.
The advantage would be that astronauts can use urea in concert with 3D printing to shape plasticized regolith (lunar surface material) and build heat-resistant structures on the surface of the Moon without having to lug it all the way from Earth.
Ramón Pamies is a professor at the Polytechnic University of Cartagena, Spain, who co-authored the study that resulted from experimenting with urine and a synthetic substance analogous to regolith.
“To make geopolymer concrete that will be used on the Moon,” Pamies said, “the idea is to use what is already there: regolith and the water from the ice present in some areas. But moreover, with this study, we have seen that a waste product, such as the urine of the personnel who occupy the moon bases, could also be used. The two main components of urine are water and urea, a molecule that allows the hydrogen bonds to be broken and, therefore, reduces the viscosities of many aqueous mixtures.”
So while the proposal and experiment are certainly bizarre, they’re not exactly pissing in the wind (or the vacuum of space). The idea could actually work.
Many believe that Space Force will immanently expand our military arena into cis-lunar regions and geosynchronous orbits and that both governments and private corporations of the world will be quick to look for ways to profit, both financially and in terms of national security and military gamesmanship.
However, while NASA continues to plan its 2020s space strategy around a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway and China explores similar options, they still face the incredible cost of keeping humans alive in space. Always thinking in terms of innovation, scientists and researchers believe lunar mining and helium-3 extraction might facilitate terrestrial electrical production.
Now they may have a new cost-reduction strategy for lunar construction: a mixture of human urine and 3D printing. A remaining challenge is how to separate the urea from the urine but some scientists say that it may not even be necessary.
According to co-author Anna-Lena Kjøniksen, professor at Østfold University College, “…perhaps [urine’s] other components could also be used to form the geopolymer concrete.”
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