People settling on Mars will to some degree have to live off the land. At its closest, our neighboring planet lies 35 million miles away. Transporting supplies there will cost roughly $5,000 per pound and take at least six months using current technology. Better to enlist the natural resources of their new home when possible, an approach called in situ resource utilization. “It totally changes the logistics of a mission,” says Advenit Makaya, a materials engineer who develops processes like 3D printing at the European Space Agency. “You don’t have to bring everything with you.”
Humans on the Red Planet might draw power from the sun, mine water from buried ice, and harvest oxygen from the atmosphere. With NASA’s encouragement, architects, engineers, and scientists are exploring how early residents might use recycled waste and the planet’s loose rock and dust, called regolith, to craft tools, erect homes, pave launchpads and roads, and more.
Rovers and probes have revealed enough about Martian geology for us to start figuring out how that might work. The surface contains an abundance of iron, magnesium, aluminum, and other useful metals found here at home. Scientists also believe the crust consists largely of volcanic basalt much like the dried lava fields of Hawaii.