Hey, stop eating the Mars habitat!
British scientists say they've made fancy space concrete out of potato starch — and that it works much better than the stuff they made before, which would have needed both blood and urine to work.
In a press release about the material, which they're calling "StarCrete," researchers at the University of Manchester in the UK bragged say the new compound is "twice as strong as regular concrete" and has a mostly-but-not-entirely tasty recipe: "extra-terrestrial dust, potato starch, and a pinch of salt."
A rundown of the research was published last week in the journal Open Engineering, where the biomanufacturing experts behind the study say that "surplus starch produced as food for inhabitants could be used for construction" of affordable and easy-to-build Martian habitats in the future.
As the UM statement notes, this latest research is built on previous studies by the same team in which they managed to build a "concrete-like" material using — and we're sorry, but this is gross — "astronauts’ blood and urine as a binding agent."
"While the resulting material had a compressive strength of around 40 [Megapascals], which is better than normal concrete, the process had the drawback of requiring blood on a regular basis," the statement notes. "When operating in an environment as hostile as space, this option was seen as less feasible than using potato starch."
As a side note, it's important to point out that this whole gambit would require potatoes being grown on Mars — and back in 2017, there was a Matt Damon-fueled debate about whether or not that will even be possible.
"Since we will be producing starch as food for astronauts, it made sense to look at that as a binding agent rather than human blood," Dr. Aled Roberts, the lead researcher on the project and a fellow at the University of Manchester's Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub, said in the press release.
Roberts said that while "current building technologies still need many years of development and require considerable energy and additional heavy processing equipment which all adds cost and complexity to a mission," the UM team's StarCrete potato starch compound "doesn’t need any of this and so it simplifies the mission and makes it cheaper and more feasible."
"And anyway," he mused, "astronauts probably don’t want to be living in houses made from scabs and urine!"
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