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Midwest Man Developing Martian Concrete for NASA Challenge

Mon January 30, 2017 - Midwest Edition
Talbot Fisher

Artist rendering of Mars settlement construction. via
Artist rendering of Mars settlement construction. via

Gary Lay of Galesburg is fearless. He looks forward to someday having the chance to go into space, a chance he would take "in a heartbeat." He is exploring the world of possibilities, and needs a little help.

NASA is conducting a challenge, with Bradley University in Peoria as a "go-between." The goal is to create a form of "Martian concrete" using the materials naturally occurring on Mars, while using 3-D printer technology. Lay is looking for team members to help with crowdsourcing, robotics and anyone who has an interest in helping.

"I'm looking for interested individuals and local companies," he said. "Everyone has their own little niche, and may be able to help."

He also is searching for investors in the project.

While people worldwide are taking part in the challenge, Lay feels the key is here in the Midwest.

"People in the heartland are very innovative, very smart, very hands-on," said Lay.

Registration for the project has been extended to Feb. 28. The first step will be the creation and 3-D printing of a cylinder of "Martian cement" which will be tested for strength. The top 10 will move on to create a different cylinder, with the top three from that phase moving on to Bradley University to build a dome. The potential to win a share of $1,500,000 is at stake as well.

While these are admittedly difficult goals, Lay knows they are possible. Growing up in Galesburg, he has held an interest in space exploration since he was 5 years old, when he cut out reports of Sputnik from the newspaper. Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, was launched by the Soviets in 1957 and was the start of the "Space Race" which culminated with Apollo 11 landing on the moon in 1969, only 12 years later. The race captivated the world and a generation grew up idolizing astronauts and imagining cities on the moon and colonies on Mars. But man has not walked on the moon since 1972. Of the 12 men who have done it, only six remain alive. The youngest of them is now 81 years old, Charles Duke.

"We've lost our way," said Lay. "Humanity's future lies in proliferating the universe; we need to get off this planet."

He sees hope in SpaceX, led by Elon Musk. Lay told of his chance meeting on a commercial flight with a then-director of the formerly little-known company and how it led to a tour of their headquarters and work. He sees hope in Red Dragon, the Mars lander SpaceX intends to launch in 2018 in preparation for a manned mission to the planet.

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