The gringa, most definitely a product of the eighties, has mental images of R2D2 rolling around beeping and twittering happily as he constructs a space hut, anticipating the imminent arrival of Mars colonists from Earth. Well, it could happen! Seriously. Well, maybe not the R2D2 part, but something very nearly like it.
As NASA explores creative, imaginative ideas and new technologies, 3D printing is at the forefront of their plan to robotically construct habitations that will await the arrival of new Earthling residents on the Red Planet. By doing so, they can save critical cargo space. If they don’t have to pack tools, parts, and building supplies that can instead be contrived on a 3D printer sent ahead to Mars, the astronauts can arrive with other critical cargo to further enable a long-term mission’s success.
The engineers and scientists hard at work at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama are making this a reality. The envisioned plan is to have mobile machines that work like a 3D printer delivered to Mars by robotic space delivery. These machines could then be remotely controlled from Earth. These state of the art contraptions could be designed to work with the raw materials found on Mars. They could be designed to exude natural resources and “print” the building materials to create structures. Astronauts could arrive on Mars to find robot erected, 3D printed shelters already in place with a welcome mat outside to scrape off the space dust of their long journey.
This technology is already being tested at the International Space Station (ISS). Crews on board ISS have been creating all sorts of projects like building wrenches from layered plastic filament. Such items then undergo durability testing to see if they will even work. Advances in the technology will eventually, hopefully, make it possible to upgrade from plastic wrenches to wrenches manufactured from metals like titanium, nickel and other alloys.
NASA continues to search for talent throughout the civilian sector to help the dream come true of landing a manned space mission on Mars. One way this is done is by creating challenges and competitions in the fields of science and technology. In their 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge Design competition, Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office walked away with the grand prize depicted in the above picture of their design “Icehouse”.
By partnering with talent NASA is accelerating its own capabilities in advancing technology and manufacturing. 3-D technology is now in the proving ground to see if it can be used to create many things that humans will need in order to survive a long term stay on Mars. Being able to arrive at the Red Planet and survive in this galactic wilderness, create their own tools, survival and building materials with the natural resources at hand and a 3-D printer is beyond the gringa’s comprehension and that’s hard to believe considering my vast and somewhat quirky imagination.