On Mars, colonists will have to turn to the local environment for construction materials, as well as for water and oxygen. Kirkpatrick said he and his colleagues at RedWorks are looking to the past for inspiration. They're reinventing a kind of building material popular during the Roman Empire, called welded tuff. The modern version is made using a low-heat system that's able to turn fine silicates and basaltic compounds into simple stone compounds.
Another technique, called molten regolith electrolysis, uses electrical energy to break down soil into its basic minerals in a single step. The process releases oxygen, which can be harnessed for breathable air, and creates a kind of "mongrel alloy" made of iron, aluminum, titanium, silicon and other trace metals.
Although the alloy won't be very strong or of high quality, in the low-gravity environment of Mars, it doesn't need to be. People can use it to build "beefier" structures and foundations to support early settlements.
"A simpler system like that would be easier to maintain and easier to source with spare parts," Metzger said.