If we’ve ever gotten a bit carried away with our excitement about 3-D printing’s potential to change the world, we apologize. We’re over it: "Changing the world" feels a little quaint when you can change the moon.
That’s what’s up at London architecture firm Foster + Partners, working in collaboration with the European Space Agency (Europe’s answer to NASA). They’re spearheading an initiative to figure out if it’s possible to "print" a base on the moon’s south pole by running lunar soil (called regolith) through a 3-D printer so that astronauts wouldn’t have to transport the material.
"3-D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth," the ESA’s Scott Hovland said in a statement. Essentially, it’s easier to build something on the moon when you don’t have to bring as much equipment there.
Foster + Partners has come up with a design for a four-person house that looks almost like an igloo. An inflatable dome would be covered in layers of regolith by the D-Shape 3-D printer, the same printer being used for the world’s first 3-D printed building. (And when we say "the world’s first," we mean it in a whole new way.) The walls themselves would be filled with hollow spaces—like bird bones—to limit the amount of printing needed.
According to Foster + Partners’ statement, "3-D printing tests have been undertaken at a smaller scale in a vacuum chamber to echo lunar conditions," so apparently it’s possible to 3-D print in a vacuum. If this pilot works, look out for "moon-changing" as the top buzzword of 2035—just a prediction.