A few weeks ago I blogged about the possibilities of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, for the construction of permanent buildings and dwellings on the Moon and Mars, utilizing the actual "Moon dust" and "Mars dust" found on the surface of those planets. For those who've been following the meme of mining asteroids, or the Moon, or Mars, the idea has definite overhead implications, for back in the late 1950s and 1960s when the USA and the Soviet Union were hatching projects for permanent human colonies on the Moon, the basic premise was that everything would have to be hauled up there and assembled in place. Gradually, things began to change. But the idea of using materials of those planets themselves to construct facilities was not part of the initial phases for establishing  such facilities. That, in their thinking back then, came at a much later phase.

But now there's this important story, shared by Mr. M.H.:

New method for 3-D printing extraterrestrial materials

Note, this was a Google-sponsored study, using NASA-approved lunar and Mars dust simulants, to do a basic "proof of concept" experiment to demonstrate that one can, indeed, use such materials to manufacture tools and perhaps, ultimately, dwellings and other human facilities:

"For places like other planets and moons, where resources are limited, people would need to use what is available on that planet in order to live," said Shah, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and of surgery in the Feinberg School of Medicine. "Our 3D paints really open up the ability to print different functional or structural objects to make habitats beyond Earth."

Partially supported by a gift from Google and performed at Northwestern's Simpson Querrey Institute, the research was recently published in Nature Scientific Reports. Adam Jakus, a Hartwell postdoctoral fellow in Shah's TEAM lab, was the paper's first author.

Shah's research uses NASA-approved lunar and Martian dust simulants, which have similar compositions, particle shapes, and sizes to the dusts found on lunar and Martian surfaces. Shah's team created the lunar and Martian 3D paints using the respective dusts, a series of simple solvents, and biopolymer, then 3D printed them with a simple extrusion process. The resulting structures are over 90 percent dust by weight.

Despite being made of rigid micro-rocks, the resulting 3D-painted material is flexible, elastic, and tough -- similar to rubber. This is the first example of rubber-like or soft materials resulting from lunar and Martian simulant materials. The material can be cut, rolled, folded, and otherwise shaped after being 3D painted, if desired.

"We even 3D-printed interlocking bricks, similar to Legos, that can be used as building blocks," Shah said.

This, of course, is a huge step in the development of permanent human habitations off planet, and, of course, for the commercialization of space in the form of mining celestial bodies, for the ability to manufacture needed tools on the spot, rather than drag them from Earth, is a crucial step in reducing launch weights, and as long as we're thinking in terms of chemical rockets, launch weights, thrusts, and escape velocities, these developments are important. (Of course, I'm not backing off one iota from my belief that to be talking of permanent human habitations on other planets in the solar system, or of asteroid mining, is really to be implying a very different technology than chemical rockets. I'm simply using the chemical rocket model here for the purpose of discussion.)

As a proof of concept experiment, this is important, and it immediately points the way to the next step and stage, and hence to today's high octane speculation and prediction. To be absolutely certain of the viability of additive manufacturing as a means of creating tools or eventually even habitats or dwellings on other celestial bodies, one will necessarily have to take a 3d printer to those bodies, land them on the surface, and quite literally scoop up the dust and see if it can be used to manufacture something under the more extreme conditions on those bodies. The next stage, in other words, will be for the space-faring powers to design lunar or Martian landers that will include a 3D printer and the experimental equipment needed to verify the feasibility of additive manufacturing on other celestial bodies. NASA has already taken a printer into space and printed simple tools in zero gravity, so this would be the next logical step.

We can expect, in other words, China, Japan, India, Russia, the Europeans, and the USA, to begin planning some such experiment in the near future (if they have not already covertly done so).

See you on the flip side...


  1. This testing depends on the alleged composition of the dust. What about that titanium said to be near the lunar surface? As for the “rubbery” aspect, how does this relate to the alleged lack of any atmosphere on the Moon, which would leave it exposed to constant meteoric activity (in so many years of lunar research, one would expect new craters to have been observed…). And Mars is another kettle of fish. Anyway, as Marcos pointed out, if they’re talking about it they are already trying it.

  2. The interesting engineering on the Moon is going to be coming from the balancing of structural loads (1/6 Earth g) with air-pressure loads. On Earth, you build to take gravity loads (etc.). On any world without appreciable atmosphere, you can offset g-loads with air-pressure. I could see true gossamer-structures on the Moon, etc. Beautiful. (True, they would collapse with a sizable puncture, but there will probably be ways of quickly-filling small holes, run-flat-tire style.)

  3. This was already done in this local time and place in the universe. Its what the pyramids are made of. By local, I mean within a place in the perception of the expansion that we presently refer to collectively as time—around the last billion or so years. The evidence is all around us. Some of it is extremely ancient, some not. Someone(s) and/or something(s) had discovered an abundance of metals to be mined in this solar system and sent their equipment and ships here until a contingency of actual beings eventually ended up here and mined every planet down to the last one. The one that harbored life. Battles were fought over whether or not mining should continue because mining operations also destroy life. That’s all that has been going on here. Now, we are evolving up from the remnants to do the same elsewhere.

  4. A old meme of science fiction “The City Machine” a novel published by NAL under DAW Label dealt with this idea . As the old saying goes if they’re talking about this publicly they’re already doing it just not talking openly about it. This would disrupt the building and manufacturing industries as they’re now structured.

  5. A significantly more abundant material in space to theoretically build with would be dark matter and if i know my nazis that is what they constructed their off-planet palaces with. Leave the Moon dust to the Chinese to make bricks out of or to the banksters to sell back on Earth as a facial mud cream or a snortable pseudo-intoxicant that empty-headed thrill seekers will pay top dollar for in NY and Hollywood.

    One little project I have been working on to sell to DARPA one day is my little mini-blackhole sleeping bag. Space travelers could snuggle up in here at night and get the equivalent of a thousand nights sleep. It is thoroughly invigorating and could also be marketed as a rejuvenation tank for spas and health centers. It also eliminates the need for food as all sustenance is provided for be they universe once inside. The only hitch so far is getting the occupant to wake up and get back out of the blackhole in a timely fashion. Sometimes the sleeper goes inside and doesn’t return for thousands of years. The other big problem is spaghettification. The chances of exiting the blackhole sleeping bag without your body and mind being stretched out and contorted are however very great and it is a glitch I still need to iron out. I can’t tell you how many homeless people I’ve burned through trying to fix this. If you see any spaced-out panhandlers with 12 footlong arms and a 20 foot neck, you’ll know where they came from.

    1. Our new Overlord Martian Lunar King has a dream.. He sees white girls and (mostly..hey we dont control where the Earthquakes happen… do we??) black girls being sold as 3 for 1 offers..Where the size and weight of your wallet means more than the colour of your skin.. See our children.. prick them.. do they not bleed? That blood is for sale.
      Special discounts for members of Royalty.. any royalty, it doesnt matter which.

      Use our new app Dy(ingslowlyforyourpleasure)nCorp Online to order children, women, body parts , drugs, assassinations.. Whatever your darkest desires desire… Special discounts for howling like a wolf when you order (please specify if body parts are to be implanted to replace your own withered excuses of an organ, or eaten..)

      (VB..we already have the rejuvenation baths.. Ask Erzsébet Bathory for pointers and advice.. She’s currently going by the name of Marina Abramovic and is still looking as young and vital as ever..)

  6. oh nooo… our Martian and Lunar bases are going to be made out of Lego??
    What happens if someone needs to go to the toilet during the night.. Lego bricks everywhere.. Our poor feet..

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