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Simulated Mars dust makes for weird 3D-printed objects

European Space Agency researchers print a tiny igloo and a wall corner out of fake Mars dust -- and they look like something you wouldn't want to step in.

These may look goofy, but they're a first step to 3D printing using local Mars materials.

When humans finally get to Mars, they'll need to use local resources in their quest for survival. Mars has a lot of dust, and the European Space Agency is looking at how to transform it into useful 3D-printed objects. On Wednesday, the ESA posted the fascinating results of a 3D-printing test using simulated Mars soil on Wednesday.

The team 3D-printed an igloo-like structure and a wall corner. They're sized for a small mouse, but they show that it's possible to create sturdy objects using the local resources on Mars.

The researchers used a Mars soil simulant called JSC-Mars-1A, which contains volcanic material, mixed with phosphoric acid as a binder. The mixture was extruded through a nozzle and layered in typical 3D-printing fashion.

The igloo and corner won't win many points for aesthetics, but that's OK.

Tommaso Ghidini, head of ESA's materials and processes section, says the samples "represent an encouraging result." Future explorers could one day land on the Red Planet and print out their very own Mars-adobe buildings.