Living on the moon might be possible in 2040, scientists say
by Lucid C. and Benny M.
For many years, establishing living quarters on another planet has been a goal of NASA’s, but has seemed impossible to those of us confined to Earth. However, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is in the process of creating a 3D printer capable of printing homes – made with lunar dust.
Developed by ICON, a construction technology company, the Vulcan 3D printer is large enough to print concrete houses that are weather resistant and cost-efficient. ICON was founded by Jason Ballard, Alex Le Roux, and Evan Loomis in 2018. Together, they began 3D printing homes on Earth, their biggest project being for Community First! Village, Austin’s collection of 400 homes for the homeless and homes in a village of affordable, hurricane-resilient homes for Mexican families living in poverty in the outlying town of Nacacajuca. When their design won a NASA challenge, ICON and NASA started working together to develop a base.
The technology to 3D print houses, and even moon bases, is not necessarily a new thing. In 2015, Sergei Dobrianski gave a TEDx talk about 3D printing with lunar dust. In 2014, the European Space Agency proved that 3D printing on the moon, using lunar dust, was feasible and were able to use simulated dust to print..
3D printing a home is remarkably similar to regular 3D printing, when it comes to the mechanics and technical details. James Hock, who teaches most of the technology classes in the school, has six 3D printers in his classroom, and explained how they work: “It heats it up the plastic filament, then melts it, then squeezes it out through a little nozzle, and through the x, y, z, planes it maneuvers around, and then it hardens as it comes out.”
Science teacher Duana Tyler adds: “Some sort of substance like a resin will be melted and redeposited in a certain specific pattern, to create any manner of thing, usually computer generated.”
However, there are some differences between Earth and the moon, which can affect the process. For one thing, it’s a vacuum. “If you’re doing it on the moon, you’d probably have to use more than just 3D printed materials, because it’s kind of a dangerous place,” explained science teacher Eric Leeper. “You’d also need something to protect you from the sun’s rays, as there’s an extremely minimal atmosphere on the moon. You’d also have to be able to get the supplies there.”
To solve these issues, ICON and NASA have made a new form of concrete to be able to be used for lunar construction. This new material, nicknamed “Lavacrete,” can withstand the heat of a rocket, a crucial detail for any lunar base due to the need for supplies and transport via rockets. Additionally, the Vulcan printer would be able to harvest the resources required to make the concrete. So far, the material has been made with simulated lunar dust and testing is going well.
For Jennifer Edmunson, a Marshall Space Flight Center’s lead geologist for project OLYMPUS, the tests, while still incredibly important, are not enough: “The first thing that needs to happen is a proof of concept. Can we actually manipulate the soil on the lunar surface into a construction material?” She explained to the New York Times: “We need to start this development now if we’re going to realize habitats on the moon by the 2040 time frame.”
The planning required to 3D print houses on the Moon is complicated, but NASA staff believes it’s possible. If everything goes as planned, people could be living on the moon within the next 20 years.