It’s no secret that NASA is working towards a Mars landing within the next couple of decades. In fact, optimistic views on this put a human on Mars in 2030.
In conjunction with that effort is the ability to build housing on the planet for astronauts and people to live in on a longer term basis. Enter 3d printing and Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor at the University of Southern California and since 2011, the man helping NASA build a colony on Mars.
“I wanted to 3D-print structures using materials on the moon, and later on Mars,” Khoshnevis told CNN. “With my own pocket money, I did some experiments, and purchased materials that looked very similar to the lunar and Martian materials, both in terms of the shapes, and percentage of different oxides — all the characteristics were comparable.
The professor notes some of the challenges of bringing a 3d printer to Mars and having it work there.
“We will have to place the construction machines inside the payload compartment of a rocket,” he said. “For that, we have to be mindful of the size. It can’t be too large or too heavy. Otherwise, it would need bigger rockets — and the cost of building such a rocket would be pretty significant. But once the compartment has landed on another planet, then its contents can start working autonomously. We don’t want to send human astronauts as construction workers.”
If you’re thinking: well, what about the problems that occur because Mars has significantly less gravity than earth — the professor has it covered.
“The gravity on Mars is a third of that on Earth, and the moon’s is a sixth. But actually that’s beside the point, because my 3D printing processes don’t depend on gravity. The printers extrude by force, with pressure — like a glue gun. A glue gun doesn’t need gravity. If you push it out upside down, or downside up, the glue still comes out.”