In Situ Habitat Formation

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.

Man-made regolith samples. Credit: DLR-Cologne

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.

Chang’e 5 artist impression. Credit: NASA

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:

Here’s a specific example of testing regarding Moon regolith

Here’s a super super quick article regarding the dangers of inhaling moondust

Information on Chang’e 5

2 comments

  1. One thing to keep in mind is that the building materials we might find on other planets have never been exposed to oxygen before. Build a structure out of lunar regolith, fill it with an oxygen atmosphere, and you may get some pretty rapid and unexpected oxidation reactions. Something like that happened on the Apollo missions. The astronauts tracked some moon dust into their capsule, and soon after they reported a smell like something burning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true, so I’d expect that we’d process the regolith in a way that it doesn’t have troublesome reactions. Regolith is just something to bulk up the building material since it’s already there, but scientists could have a completely different idea in mind.

      Liked by 1 person

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