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Astronauts make cement in space for the first time

As part of a recent investigation aboard the International Space Station, astronauts made cement in microgravity for the first time, showing that it can harden and develop in space.

Concrete  is a mixture of sand, rocks, gravel and a combination of water and cement powder that binds it all together is a strong and reliable building material here on Earth. But it also could be durable enough to protect future astronauts from cosmic radiation and some of the dangers that come with off-Earth living, researchers said in a new study.

“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,” study principal investigator Aleksandra Radlinska, an assistant professor of civil engineering at Penn State, said in a statement from NASA. “One idea is building with a concrete-like material in space. Concrete is very sturdy and provides better protection than many materials.”

In addition, concrete (or concrete-like mixtures) could potentially be made using local materials, like moon dust. So, if and when humans establish lunar and Martian colonies, these colonists would be able to use local materials instead of having them sent from Earth, which would be a difficult, time-consuming and costly process.

For the study, called the Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification project, astronauts on the space station mixed water with tricalcium silicate, the main mineral ingredient in some of the most commonly used commercial cements. This mixture had never been created in microgravity.

When researchers on Earth compared the cement samples made on Earth with the cement samples made in space, they found that the cement created  on the space station had very different microstructures than the cement made on Earth, according to the statement. One of the main differences was that the cement made in space was much more porous than the Earth-made cement.