Courtesy of NASA/Popular Mechanics
Observations of how cement reacts in space during the hardening process may help engineers better understand its microstructure and material properties, which could improve cement processing techniques on Earth and lead to the design of safe, lightweight space habitats. Since concrete is the most widely used building material on Earth due to its strength and durability, exploring the potential changes in concrete in a microgravity environment is critical to future structures on the Moon and Mars, considering environmental factors such as extreme temperatures, solar radiation, and meteorites. Since concrete is composed of sand, gravel, and rocks bound together with a cement powder paste, determining if materials available on those extraterrestrial bodies may be used, reducing the need to transport construction materials to the Moon or Mars, could significantly reduce costs.
Although experimentation and testing continue, initial results indicate increased porosity in those concrete samples processed in a microgravity environment, which affects the strength of the concrete. This preliminary testing was done in sealed pouches, and further study will be conducted to determine if processing the concrete in open spaces yields additional changes. Evaluation of cement samples containing simulated lunar particles processed at different gravity levels is also ongoing aboard the ISS.
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