By virtue of the long wait between launch windows for Earth-Mars transit, navigating the challenges of a two-year stay on the Mars is essential to any thoughts of a manned mission1. A return on this investment seems most feasible by directing part of the time during the two year wait towards building a long-term base of operations on Mars, to offset the exorbitant costs of any singular trip to Mars. REGObricks brings the principle of In-Situ Resource Utilization ISRU to bear on the problem of constructing, maintaining and expanding shelter for human inhabitants on the desolate Martian landscape. By enlisting the aid of bacterium Sporosarcina pasteurii, REGObricks investigates the process to grow calcium carbonate crystals as a result of the byproducts from an ureolytic hydrolysis reaction catalyzed by the enzyme urease.2 The crystals aggregate in the gaps between sand particles, linking them in tight compact structures. The sand from an extended biocementation process has been shown in research to form bricks with compressive strengths up to 30 Mpa, comparable to that of concrete or limestone 3.. After showing proof of concept for potential for biocementation to fuse analog extraterrestrial regolith, we sought to evaluate the space-worthiness of S. pasteurii, standardize this bacterium to current synthetic biology standards and modulate its useful urease function.
It is our hope that the research we did this summer will pave the way for the development and propagation of this important tool to create structurally sound building materials in the absence of industrial infrastructure for interterrestrial use.
Urease cluster from Sporosarcina pasteurii: http://partsregistry.org/Part:BBa_K656013
1 Coffey, Jeffery. "Distance from Earth to Mars." Space and Astronomy News. Universe Today, 04 June 2008. Web. 24 Sept. 2011. [http://www.universetoday.com/14824/distance-from-earth-to-mars]
3 Al-Thawadi, Salwa (2008) High strength in-situ biocementation of soil by calcite precipitating locally isolated ureolytic bacteria. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.]]