Photo courtesy UTEP

UTEP Civil Engineering recognized by NASA for Reproducing Martian Soil

The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Civil Engineering received an award from NASA’s Johnson’s Space Center (JSC) to reproduce Martian soil for mechanical interactions.

The primary objective of the project is to mechanistically characterize the physical and mechanical properties of the JSC Mars-1 regolith to better understand the physical, mechanical, and physio-chemical properties of the Martian simulants.

JSC Mars-1 is a regolith simulant developed by NASA at the Johnson Space Center based on data collected by the Viking and Pathfinder landers.

Reza Ashtiani, Ph.D., associate professor of civil engineering at UTEP and the project lead, said any Martian mission, from establishment of habitats to rovers operating on planetary surfaces, require proper characterization of the native soils.

Ashtiani has worked diligently on this project with co-principal investigator Darren Cone, Ph.D., professor of practice and director of UTEP’s Center for the Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance Research (CASSMAR).

Ashtiani’s research team developed and executed an experiment to simulate the densification of fragmental and unconsolidated rocks in the event of Marsquakes, meteorite impacts, and passage of Mars rovers.

“Three of our students worked diligently on this project since October 2018,” Ashtiani said. “Currently there are two official presentations lined up on the outcome of this project, one at the University of Piura in Peru in October 2019, and the other at the International Conference on Transportation Geotechnics (ICDG) in Chicago in November 2020.”

Undergraduate civil engineering students Jesus Baca, Alan Quinonez and German Gary were instrumental members of the regolith characterization team.

Baca describes his participation in the project as an excellent opportunity to reinforce his passion for experimental and computational geomechanics.

To learn about CASSMAR’s work, visit