Here’s a topic that is not discussed too often online: In Situ Habitat Formation!
This is a rather new concept in the real world, as I think you can guess by the name. In the genre of Sci-fi, however, it’s seen quite frequently!
In Situ habitat formation is an eloquent way of saying “making your habitat with the materials around you”, so in the case for space you’d be building with local materials rather than importing them. For example, a manned mission to the Moon would mean using materials like Regolith to build a station.
This could be a highly economical option as we don’t need to transport so many materials! In Situ Habitat formation would be useful if we want people to stay on long missions or if we attempt to terraform another planet/moon. Fewer construction materials being transported mean more room for food, water, medicine and toiletries, thus scientists have more time to carry out any investigations.
This sounds great, but there are a few problems to consider. Firstly, we need to investigate the available materials and their suitability. We know the Moon, Mars, and even Titan has some kind of soil or regolith, but the soil needs to be “workable” and extensive testing needs to make sure it can protect us from solar winds especially when there’s little to no magnetosphere. It’s a lot of testing, not a lot of building! Furthermore, the Moon’s soil and Mars’ soil are nothing like ours or even each others, and it seems like Mars’ soil could even be slightly toxic!
And of course, In Situ habitat formation can’t be done on most planets or moons. I highly doubt there’ll be anything suitable to build with on Neptune or Jupiter.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! China’s Chang’e 5 mission brought back 2 kg of lunar soil 2 years ago, which is fantastic for testing here on Earth! Multiple experiments have already been done on the Moon’s potential resources, and while evidence shows lunar soil may not be good for humans to be near, perhaps scientists can discover a method of manipulating the soil to make In Situ Habitat Formation a safe option!
And even if we couldn’t use Lunar or Martian soil, we can at least appreciate artists’ and film directors’ interpretations of this building technique! Take Star Wars for example, the houses on Tatooine are built into the rock and sand. These were unbelievable cool to me as a child, although those stairs clearly violate structural safety laws.
If you would like to learn more, here are a few articles: