With support from Congress and the President, NASA aims to send a manned mission to Mars by 2040. Establishing a human presence on the Red Planet, however, will require permanent shelters.

And lugging a pile of bricks on the nine-month, 35-million-mile trip is out of the question.

To save valuable cargo space, many construction options have been considered, including NASA-developed inflatable structures and fold-up Extra-Vehicular Activity Platforms.

The use of the planet’s local resources, however, will be critical, according to one NASA official who spoke with TechBriefs.com this week. And Mars-bound astronauts may need to remember to pack their 3D printers.

This month, in fact, NASA awarded a $100,000 prize to the winners of its 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, an effort to foster new ways of using indigenous materials in the building process.

But there is another option beyond feeding the powder-like surface of Mars into a 3D printer: Taking that regolith and smashing it.

New on Tech Briefs this month: Professor Yu Qiao and researchers from the University of California, San Diego demonstrated a compaction technique that may someday be used to turn Martian soil into building blocks. The scientists' new method of applying pressure offers construction possibilities as NASA plans its manned Mars missions.

"With this kind of innovative work, Professor Qiao could very well end up being the brick maker for our human explorers on Mars," said Richard McGuire Davis, Jr., Assistant Director for Science and Exploration, Planetary Science Division.

But not everyone considers the process a solid idea. One INSIDER reader shared his skepticism, via email, with me:

"There's been a fair bit of work done on Martian biochemistry to address problems with why life detection has been so bizarrely difficult so far in Martian expeditions. One of the factoids that this biochemistry work turned up is that Martian soil is heavily composed of perchlorates, which are a real bad deal for humanity in terms of both breathability and reactiveness."

What do you think? Will the local resources of Mars be valuable for permanent Martian habitats? Join the discussion below.

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Billy Hurley

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