Six 12 and 13-year-old Elementary School students from the Greater São Paulo area have developed a material that will be taken to and tested in outer space; this material is potentially a key component for building human colonies outside our planet. Named “Space Cement”, the experiment was approved by NASA and is scheduled to flight in June 2019 on a SpaceX rocket to be tested over one month at the International Space Station (ISS).
Created by NASA 12 years ago, the “Student Spaceflight Experiments Program” receives a work from a non-North-America country for the first time. The partnership with Missão Garetéa (The Garetéa Mission) allowed over 10 thousand projects to be enrolled. NASA selected the Space Cement among the 72 top finalists.
Young Brazilian students from Colégio Dante Alighieri and Escola Municipal Perimetral (two schools based in São Paulo), and also from Projeto Âncora (a project developed in the city of Cotia) traveled to Washington D.C. to present their idea and represent Brazil at the “National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE).” This is the first Brazilian project taken to space since “Missão Centenário” (The Century Mission), which put Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes around the Earth’s orbit in 2006.
“The times are crucial for science in Brazil, so arousing the interest of kids in science is crucial to ensure continuity of a well-developed work throughout the country,” said Lucas Fonseca, Space Engineer and Missão Garatéa Coordinator, in an interview given to Globo TV.
In July, Missão Garetéa will be issuing a national announcement for the contest’s next edition.
Green plastic is space cement’s key element
The material to be taken to outer space consists of cement, sand, and green plastic. According to developers themselves, producing plastic from sugarcane ethanol is the project’s greatest idea. This is so because plastics can have a protective effect against solar radiation and thereby reduce drastically the exposure of astronauts to this kind of radiation – a potential cause of cancer.
“The idea came out from questions on why space constructions are so few. Then, we thought of carrying cement to outer space, since it is heavily used in constructions built down here on Earth,” explained student Sofia Palma to Globo TV. She and her team were glad to know that a green plastic recycling machine will be sent to outer space as part of the same project; this encouraged them to add the substance to their cement compound.
The experiment focuses on finding out how the process of hardening cement mixed with plastic and water is affected by gravity. During 30 days, two identical tubes containing one part of water and one part of the mix will be tested: one tube will be tested at a lab on Earth, and the other by an astronaut at the ISS. Brazilian students support the assumption that cement mixed with green plastic will behave the same way both in outer space and on Earth.
The study addresses an array of topics: micro-gravity, the composition of plastic and cement, the composition used in the making of cement, 3D printing, and radioactivity. If the material validates its good performance under exposure to these conditions, it could be the best alternative for building human colonies in other places such as the Moon and Mars.
Content published in July 27, 2018