The Earth’s Moon: an empty and pointless waste of rock, with nothing to do and no one to do it…until now. A consortium of European companies and organizations, including London-based architectural firm Foster + Partners, has just been commissioned by the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop a method for constructing habitats on the moon. The consortium’s method of choice? 3D printing.
Because it would be impossible to launch building materials across the 238,900 mile (384,400 km) distance to the Moon, the consortium plans on creating a specialized 3D printer that will utilize the Moon’s soil itself as the print material. Architects at Foster + Partners are designing an inflatable, pressurized dome meant to house four astronauts and protect against “micrometeoroids and space radiation”, according to the ESA’s website. A 3D printer, controlled via robot, will then construct an outer shell from lunar soil, called regolith. All of this will take place at one of the Moon’s poles, the regions with the most stable climate, in order to prevent uncontrollable temperature fluctuations that may affect the printing process.
The ESA has even already conducted a simulation here on Terra with the use of none other than Enrico Dini’s 6-meter-frame D-Shape printers. Basaltic rock from a volcano in Italy was used to simulate the regolith, which was then combined with magnesium oxide and fused together with a binding salt in the printing process. In the end, Dini and the consortium partners were able to print a 1.5 ton block in a vacuum chamber by inserting their extruder below the regolith and using the weight of the material itself to prevent the printed deposits from floating off due to the lack of gravity, demonstrating that the feat could very well be possible on the Moon.
In the same way that technology developed for space exploration has trickled down to the larger population as a whole (enriched baby food, water filters, cordless tools, and satellites, among other things), we may see this method of construction used in more common building practices here on Earth, allowing for the creation of buildings from sustainable materials found in the environment.
Still, as we enter this incomprehensible age of space colonization, I think it’s important not to romanticize life on the Moon for non-astronauts. As depicted in Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, living in a colony on a desolate orb is probably not for everyone:
Extending his hand, Norm Schein said heartily, “Hi there, Mayerson; I’m the official greeter from our hovel. Welcome–ugh–to Mars.”
“I’m Fran Schein,” his wife said, also shaking hands with Barney Mayerson. “We have a very orderly, stable hovel here; I don’t think you’ll find it too dreadful.” She added, half to herself, “Just dreadful enough.” She smiled, but Mayerson did not smile back; he looked grim, tired, and depressed, as most new colonists did on arrival to a life, which they knew was difficult and essentially meaningless. “Don’t expect us to sell you on the virtues of this,” she said. “That’s the UN’s job. We’re nothing more than victims like yourself. Except that we’ve been here a while.”