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Have there been any designs for a Mars habitat that could be built out of the rocks that are on Mars?

Maybe by having a rover find and scan rocks to build up a catalogue of 3D scans of rocks and then calculating how they will all fit together best and then stacking them together to construct a building. Then you could still have a pressurized and airtight habitat inside the rock structure but it wouldn't need to provide the structural strength.

That would seem like the best way to keep the weight of materials needed to bring to Mars down to me, and if you could build a rover that keeps going as long as the current rovers. You could easily have spare building being built after the main habitat has been constructed as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ I re-tagged a bit your question because we already have similar questions. Not duplicates, but answers to them could give you clues as to what materials are available and which construction techniques do or don't make sense in Martian environment. Also useful: Depressurization of a habitat on Mars. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Aug 13 '15 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ How come nobody has mentioned living in lava tubes/caves yet? $\endgroup$ – Deer Hunter Aug 14 '15 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ ESA and NASA have looked at 3D printing with Lunar and Martian regolith. Some private building printer entrepreneur has talked about his ambitions for this too on the spaceshow. There are plenty of sand dunes on Mars. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Aug 14 '15 at 9:38
  • $\begingroup$ @DeerHunter Did too! :) $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Aug 14 '15 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ Mars concrete is perhaps the answer. See: fastcodesign.com/3055172/… $\endgroup$ – user13286 Feb 2 '16 at 15:16
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There are really no truly serious studies on Mars bases, since none have really been funded, thus most are in the nature of stories, concepts, or ideas.

One example from a lunar base of a proposed concept would be 3-D printing the base here and here.

The basic notion is making cement of some kind from lunar resources with minimal resources brought from Earth. This one has some real demo work behind it as there is a device built to use a cement analogue to extrude buildings.

Lots of fun science fiction on the topic. The Red Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson spans a sufficient time period to discuss almost every known base and terra forming idea ever suggested.

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  • $\begingroup$ I have seen some of the 3D printed base concepts, but they seem like they would need to transport a lot of material for these, and that is why I think if you could use rock and then just use the cement like material around the rocks you could reduce the weight and amount of the materials you need to bring. $\endgroup$ – user802599 Aug 14 '15 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for referencing KSR. The science in his Mars series is really solid, the characters are fictional, but the science is real. Red Mars should be considered practically a primer on colonizing Mars. $\endgroup$ – Blake Walsh Aug 14 '15 at 10:33
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This idea is essentially pointless on Mars. It would be valuable to pile at least 1m of regolith on top of a habitat for radiation shielding and I think most plans for extraterrestrial colonies propose this, but there is little point in using rocks, or trying to interlock them.

For a start it doesn't require much structural strength for a cylinder to hold up a large mass of soil. I've seen a corrugated iron culvert under at least 10m of soil and rocks, with heavy trucks driving over it. It looked way too flimsy, but a cylindrical void is intrinsically quite stable.

Furthermore on Mars the habitat could support a large mass of soil from air pressure alone, 1atm of air pressure would support about 5m of Martian regolith. Piling a bunch of regolith on top might even improve stability by equalizing pressure on both sides of the shell. See this answer to learn more about how much rock air pressure can support.

So unfortunately for the idea of an interlocking rock structure, unless it's at least 5m thick, it would actually get exploded by air pressure. The problem on Mars is primarily tensile strength to keep the air in. If the habitat's membrane/shell has sufficient tensile strength, then once pressurized it also has ample structural strength to support a great weight of loose rock/regolith - up to 5x more than required for radiation shielding. And once regolith has been piled on top and compacted it'll be intrinsically fairly stable so even if the habitat depressurizes it probably wont collapse.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you raise some important points that it is the tensile strength that a Mars habitat needs most, because it needs to keep the inside pressurized, and because of that pressure difference and the reduced gravity you are probably right that you would probably be looking at walls about 5m thick to balance out the forces completely. I think you would still want a inner shell or balloon to stack around if you where going to do this, and I think you would want to combine this with some sort of aggregate or glue or cement to stick the rocks together to add to the stability. $\endgroup$ – user802599 Aug 14 '15 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ @user802599 there is little point I see in gluing the aggregate. For piling, all you need is some earthmoving equipment - because of low gravity it can be significantly flimsier than the Earthly equivalent. Making some kind of concrete makes the whole thing significantly more complex, it is hard work and energy intensive to make any kind of concrete. If you can drill down to a liquid water aquifer or melt ice (again, expensive) you could make "icecrete", or simply make an entire dome out of water ice - it'll even be translucent. Icecrete sounds like it'd be the cheapest structural material. $\endgroup$ – Blake Walsh Aug 14 '15 at 10:22
  • $\begingroup$ Do you think there would be any advantage to carefully piling rocks over a shelter then compared to just piling regolith over the shelter? $\endgroup$ – user802599 Aug 14 '15 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ @user802599 well if you want to build a shelter in a rocky place, you wouldn't have much choice. Placing the rocks carefully, may allow the structure to be self-supporting even in the event of depressurization. But note that the first landing sites will be smooth plains for ease of landing, building, driving around and such. Rocks are bad for all sorts of reasons. $\endgroup$ – Blake Walsh Aug 14 '15 at 10:43
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The Case for Mars by Robert Zubrin suggests making clay bricks on Mars. Most of the surface of Mars contains materials that would be excellent to produce clay, with such fine grained dust everywhere on the surface. This would be a lot easier than messing with stones and getting them into the right shape. The potential for these bricks is quite high, and they could be used to build even pressurized structures.

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