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Due to the miracle of biology a bamboo plant can transform water, atmosphere, sunlight, and nutrients into a long and stable rod or tube at a incredible growth speeds (some species can grow 90cm/35 inches a day). This could be useful in a variety of practical ways in space such as:

  • Cheap and disposable scaffolding
  • Temporary structural support
  • Excess can be used as biofuel or burned for energy
  • Requires no metal smelting or ore refinery facilities
  • Can help clean atmosphere because it's a plant

Specific things you could construct with bamboo (example mars or moon):

  • Temporary frames to keep large amounts of solar panels off the surface and angled properly
  • Scaffolding to help human (or robot) workers work on hard to reach places
  • Poles to be used as "telephone poles" keeping cables and pipelines off the ground over long distances
  • Poles to be used as antenna masts for temporary installations
  • Bridges to traverse crevices or natural surface dangers
  • Road building across sandy areas where wheels can get stuck

Questions:

  • Are alternatives such as aluminum or other metals better because of these versatility?
  • Does bamboo as a temporary building material make sense or is it more economical to just use metal?

Examples of the use of Bamboo in real world construction in Earth gravity can be viewed in this slide show:

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    $\begingroup$ @called2voyage I was thinking primarily for scaffolding and other temporary structures which aren't airtight such as bridges or "telephone poles" to keep cable or antennas off the surface until a permanent solution is found $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Nov 14 '17 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek I could forsee growing bamboo on Mars. In fact, I believe Kim Stanley Robinson suggests this in his novel Red Mars. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Nov 14 '17 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ While not dismissing this out of hand, growing large bamboo plants (like the one in our back yard) requires a lot of volume, which is an expensive commodity in space. If you wanted 8 foot long poles of a couple of inches diameter at least, you'd need a space maybe 1.5 to 2 times that height to grow the plants (our 2 inch diameter ones are maybe 20 feet tall). And if you wanted a significant amount of poles, you'd need an equally significant amount of floor square footage. However, do not discount the allure of the Mars Tiki Bar. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Nov 15 '17 at 1:22
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    $\begingroup$ To be used on the Moon, bamboo should be compatible to the vacuum and the temperature there. When all water is extracted by the vacuum, what about the remaining stability? $\endgroup$ – Uwe Nov 15 '17 at 10:37
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    $\begingroup$ Bamboo contains structures needed for life (conduits for fluids, pockets of chlorophyll, etc.) that puts it at a disadvantage to artificial materials. Even if you desiccate it before, it would very likely out-gas like crazy. The UV radiation would destroy what's left in very short order. Again: Why not bubble gum and marsh mellows? $\endgroup$ – Rikki-Tikki-Tavi Nov 15 '17 at 15:56
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This is a remarkably interesting exchange. I would like to add a few concerns (as an engineer, I go straight for the problems)...

Full culm bamboo is a remarkably inefficient product to transport and thus any use in space would require bamboo to be grown in space. On Earth, we consider bamboo inefficient if it is not grown within about 200 km of its end use.

This raises the issue that the remarkable strength and unique stiffness properties of bamboo result from its growth. Both gravity and wind (lateral loads) effect the resulting culm geometry. This is demonstrated by bamboo grown on steel hillsides having a distinct bias to their culm geometry, for instance. Bamboo grown in conditions of lower gravity and not subject to lateral load will likley be 'weaker'. That said, if used in a lower gravity conditions, perhaps the bamboo will be 'tailored' appropropriately. Additionally, bamboo grown in conditions of zero gravity is unlikley to be as uniformly straight as we exect the tallest species to be.

While many species do indeed grow very rapidly, this does not mean that they are ready for use. Strength of bamboo increases with age (as the plant lignifies), attains an optimum value at 2.5 to 4 years and then decreases following maturity (reported to be greater than about 6 years). Thus there is a growing/harvest cycle on the order of three years. I am not sure anyone knows how this may be affected in an artificial environment with reduced gravity (there is liklely some space-station research out there on lignifying plants).

My greatest concern with the question of using bamboo in a vacuum is that this would imply an equilibrium moisture content of zero. While this will improve some material properties, those associated with transverse-to-longitudinal axis behaviour may be significantly degraded. These are the properties that affect splitting of the culm. This also affects 'toughness'. It is possible that bamboo in a vacuum may behave as though it is decayed.

The issue of UV is also a concern. While the bamboo epidermis provides protection while the culm is alive, this protection is degraded after harvest. Similar to many polymers, bamboo degrades under conditions of UV light, showing signs of (to use a polymer term) 'crazing'.

The issue of extreme temperature is less certain (I am aware of only limited data that does report a loss of stength at 50 degrees C), although extreme CHANGES in temperature would likely be devastating; causing splitting even with 0% mositure.

Finally... As has been noted, bamboo is a high volume plant. To be useful, we likley require structural elements at least 6 m long which imply a culm at least twice that. Unless we are sending Pandas to Mars, I would propose that the volume used to grow bamboo would be much more efficiently put to use growing food crops.

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