Urea from astronauts' pee may help build moon bases

James Marshall
April 1, 2020

A team of worldwide scientists who are working at the European Space Agency has looked into a solution as using urea, which is a component found in the urine together with lunar material to create a so-called "moon concrete".

No breathable atmosphere, radiation, extreme temperatures and meteorite bombardment mean a solid structure would be needed for long-term stay.

"We have not yet investigated how the urea would be extracted from the urine, as we are assessing whether this would really be necessary, because perhaps its other components could also be used to form the geopolymer concrete", Anna-Lena Kjøniksen, one of the researchers from Norway said in a statement. This is why so many things designed from space travel are lightweight. Any building materials there would have to withstand significant thermal change while still insulating the interior. "The two main components of this body fluid are water and urea, a molecule that allows the hydrogen bonds to be broken and, therefore, reduces the viscosities of many aqueous mixtures".

They tested this material with urea and with other plasticizers, seeing how much weight it could support. Instead, they will have to build a safe habitat to protect them from radiation, extreme temperature variations - ranging from nine negative Fahrenheit to 313 negative Fahrenheit (22 negative Celsius to 191 negative Celsius) - and the impacts of micrometeorites. This is the reason that room firms are thinking about utilizing raw materials from the moon's surface, and even those that astronauts themselves can offer, such as their pee.

As urea can be found anywhere humans are - researchers chose to see how effective it would be in the construction of a Moon base. However, one way of making it is truly staggering: they could use their own urine. "Overall, urea has promising properties as a plasticizer for the 3D printing of a lunar Geopolymeren", the scientists write.

Other common plasticizers, such as naphthalene and polycarboxylate, were also mixed with regolith and printed in the same manner for comparison.

To see just how suitable human pee would be in helping to construct a lunar base, the researchers whose lead author on the paper is Shima Pilehvar at Østfold University College, Norway, used a 3D printer to manufacture various "mud" cylinders made out of material similar to moon regolith.

"The actual water in the urine could be used for the mixture, together with that which can be obtained on the Moon, or a combination of both", she added.

The NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said that the Artemis program would make humans return to the Moon "for good", unlike the Apollo program from half a century ago.

If we humans want to go live on the Moon - which we are planning to do - we're going to have to have something to actually live in.

The surface of the Moon is a lot harsher than the surface of the Earth.

The scientists stress the need for further testing to find the best building material for the moon bases, where it can be mass-produced using 3D printers.

The team was able to publish their findings in February in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

In December 2019, United States president Donald Trump signed the massive $738billion Defense bill iwhich officially set the ball rolling to establish the Space Force.

'When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. It is going to be something.

Its official badge and uniform was revealed in January 2020.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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