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Astronomers Mix Cement In Space For First Time, Plan For Future Colonies

Colonization of the moon isn't too far off: plans for permanent lunar bases are already in motion, and the equipment for cheaply transporting people to the moon is in it's first stages of conception. But once we get there, humans will have to live inside buildings (or whatever the moon-equivalent will be called). So, in consideration of this, astronomers on the ISS mixed cement to see what zero-gravity cement would turn out like. 

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  • picture female astronaut in ISS mixing cement in bag
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    Via NASA

    Concrete has been a staple of human construction for thousands of years - one study even claims that the Egyptian pyramids were built from concrete, not rocks. Whatever the mysterious history of concrete is, we can be certain that it is going to be the foundation of our future constructions. And yep, that includes space too. 

    With colonization of the moon closer than ever before, the people over at NASA thought that it was time to start experimenting with materials that could be used to build space bases on the moon. And what sturdier and more trustworthy material than concrete? 


  • picture two astronauts on ISS mixing cement in bags
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    Via NASA

    In an experiment called  the Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS) experiment, researchers on Earth sent the basic building blocks of cement (which is actually an ingredient in concrete) to the ISS: tricalcium silicate, hydrated lime, and distilled water. These materials were then mixed together inside pouches and left to harden for 42 days, in a process called hydration

    On NASA's website, it says "Findings from this experiment shall enable scientists to describe the hydration reaction and microstructure formation in cement pastes that solidify in a microgravity environment." Or in other words, how cement reacts to being mixed in space and if it's a viable option for future construction on the moon. 


  • male astronomer mixing cement in bag in space
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    Predictably, the space cement turned out differently to Earth cement. Researchers found that the space cement, which was set in a zero-gravity environment, had a high uniform density in comparison to Earth cement. This is because the gravity on Earth causes the cement to develop a layered structure. This uniform density should actually make the cement stronger. 

    However, the space cement also turned out to be more porous than Earth cement (in the absence of gravity), with pockets of air that don't appear in Earth cement. According to one of the researchers' statements in a NASA press release, "Increased porosity has direct bearing on the strength of the material." So it turned out stronger, and weaker, than Earth cement. Hmm. 


  • astronaut making cement inside iss
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    Via NASA

    This experimentation of cement in space is beneficial not only for building structures on the moon, but also on other planets too. There are many dangerous conditions in space and on other planets that humans will have to overcome, including extreme temperatures, radiation, and of course, a lack of gravity. Concrete acts as a shield from radiation (nuclear waste is stored inside concrete structures) and is an excellent insulator. 

    Furthermore, experts think that the lunar regolith, or space dust, on the moon will serve as a good base for cement in the future, meaning that cement can be made from and on the moon. 


  • imagined picture of space colony on the moon
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    Via Astronomy

    The researchers at NASA have confirmed that cement can be successfully mixed in space. Each of these small steps are taking us closer to the future that still seems like a fantasy: living on the moon. But now, it's only a matter of time. 



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