In an effort to help build a future colony on Mars, ISRO and IISc collaborated to develop a scalable new technique for making space bricks using Martian Simulant Soil (MSS).
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First reported by YOUthe team, led by Aloke Kumar, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at IISc, showed that microbial induced calcite precipitation (MICP), essentially the right conditions under which a particular bacterium can precipitate calcium carbonate, can create bricks using Martian simulating soil.
The researchers have indeed developed bricks using both LSS (Lunar Simulant Soil) and MSS. They did this by using a biocementation process induced by bacterial growth to make the bricks organically without much intervention.
They exploited the bio-mineralization capacities of the bacterium ‘sporosarcina pasteurii’. Its introduction into the ground simulating made it harden. Under ideal conditions, MSS which originally comes in powder form, slowly turns into a brick in about 15-20 days.
For the MSS, however, the team used guar gum – a natural polymer as an additive to strengthen the MSS bricks. The compound has been extracted from guar seeds and, according to the researchers, has thickening and stabilizing properties useful in human and animal nutrition as well as in several industrial applications.
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The researchers faced quite a challenge when working on the MSS. The bacteria they used were actually soil bacteria from Earth, however, Martian soil contains a lot of iron, which is toxic. It also consists of other harmful chemicals that prevent bacteria from surviving and thriving.
Bypass this toxicity using nickel chloride which helped the ureolytic cycle used by this bacterium to counter the hardness of the ground.