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article imageOp-Ed: 3D printing a Martian colony? It’s doable, and there’s more

By Paul Wallis     Apr 22, 2017 in Technology
Sydney - 3D printing was a sort of tech novelty for about three seconds until it went mainstream. Even the least technically knowledgeable could understand the values. Now, thanks to Northwestern University, space just got a bit more accessible.
Northwestern University is the home of some truly brilliant 3D printing tech research. The utterly mind blowing 3D ovaries printing project (yes, really, 3D printed ovaries, about as complex as you can get) is one of the other projects Northwestern is doing.
The new approach to 3D printing on Mars is using local materials, including the nasty-looking Martian dust and Moon dust as materials. Using material simulants approved by NASA, The Northwestern research team, (Ramille Shah and the Tissue Engineering and Additive Manufacturing (TEAM) Laboratory), has gone to work on an epic issue. How DO you use alien materials to create core assets for explorers, colonists, and make these materials work for you? The Northwestern team makes the very valid, inescapable, fact that you have to be able to work with whatever resources are available. (Bear in mind this research is being done simulating materials in the case of Mars which nobody has ever seen directly, or actually handled directly.)
This is a  raw color  view of Mars without balancing. Pretty cool  eh?
This is a "raw color" view of Mars without balancing. Pretty cool, eh?
Short answer to the question of how is pretty elegant - “On a nanoscale”. It’s possible to create blocks of materials which can be printed, and even remain flexible, although the materials are basically minerals. It’s possible to create nanotubes, scaffolding (support frames) and other structures using 3D printing. The same materials can also be turned in to rigid, ceramic-like structures. That’s more or less the whole required shopping list for exploring space.
(Consider for a moment the rebound to terrestrial 3D printing this idea can deliver. It’s staggering. On a nanoscale, 3D printing drastically increases its scope and solves the issue of working with macro-space materials. It also increases productivity values and cost-efficiencies.)
Meanwhile the Magellan-like exploration by Northwestern continues. An additional, unrecognized to some extent, asset is the fact that 3D printing can be distributed anywhere through the Cloud and net, with specs from helpful experts. The 3D tech for space can be transmitted anywhere, too. This research, and Northwestern’s other stunning innovations, should be backed by anyone with a brain. This work is too valuable, and too practical, to overlook or relegate to some damn funding circus. Just let them get on with it, and add money as required.
Just for the record – If people didn’t HAVE to March for Science, and could get on with their work, this is what you’d be getting, a lot sooner. Point made?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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