Concept of a Mars colony

Do-It-Yourself Mars Colony: 3D Printer Would Use Mars Dust To Make Tools, Building Materials

The first colonists on Mars are likely to take along a 3D printer, not just to make the odd accessory or replacement part for the mission but to help in the actual construction and maintenance of the first colony itself. A new technique of creating rubber-like articles from Mars dust has been developed that could prove invaluable to a first colony in need of housing or a tool not readily on hand.

The first Mars colony (or Moon colony) might very well be a virtual DIY (Do It Yourself) outpost with a heavy emphasis being placed on self-reliance and the capability of making use of local resources to expand and conduct operations. Facilitation might be acquired through the use of 3D printers. Moreover, as LiveScience reported this week, a technique has been developed by a research team headed by Ramille Shah, a materials scientist at Northwestern University in Illinois, that produces much-needed, durable building materials and tools from Mars (or Moon) dust.

“For places like other planets and moons, where resources are limited, people would need to use what is available on that planet in order to live,” Shah said in a statement. “Our 3D paints really open up the ability to print different functional or structural objects to make habitats beyond Earth.”

Shah’s team developed a process combining simulated lunar and Martian dust with solvents and a biopolymer to create inks that can be used in a 3D printer and molded into various shapes using an extruder. The result is objects composed of roughly 90 percent dust. The objects were both tough and flexible, the team wrote in the online edition of the journal Scientific Reports, and were able to withstand the rolling, cutting and folding necessary to the process of printing 3D shapes.

“We even 3D-printed interlocking bricks, similar to Legos, that can be used as building blocks,” Shah said.

3d printer printed tool
Future Mars colonists may take along 3D printers to manufacture tools and needed items from local resources for the sustainability of the colony. [Image by wsf-s/Shutterstock]

In any given endeavor, once a goal or destination (or both) has been established, and the actors are ready to embark, all that is left are logistics and economics. What becomes problematic for the actors are the limitations placed upon the operation or mission — once the goal or destination has been achieved — by said logistics and economics. In a mission to colonize Mars, the logistics of preparing a launch vehicle, a transporter, fuel, and the necessities for the survival of the actors must be taken into account. The economics of meeting even the bare requirements can become prohibitive, so anything that can be sacrificed will be.

Such would be the case on a lunar mission or a trip to Mars. Eliminating the need to launch heavy tools and building materials into space to kick off said missions provides more streamlined logistics and, by extension, creates economical options for the mission that would not have existed otherwise.

The work of Shah’s team complements the recommendations of a panel of scientists and experts at the New Space Age Conference held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School in March, where it was suggested that not only were specialists going to be needed for a mission to Mars but those chosen to be the first colonists would also need to be innovative thinkers — “MacGyvers,” as one NASA scientist labeled them, referencing the television character that makes use of his surrounding resources in a given situation where the optimal article or tool is unavailable.

Speaking on the topic of “Sustainable Expansion: Reaching Mars and Beyond,” Mark Jernigan, associate director of NASA JSC Human Health and Performance Directorate, said that “people are capable of responding to situations that were not anticipated. People can understand the situation and adapt as needed, and they also have the ability, that when failures occur, to use resources that were not originally anticipated in order to solve the problem.”

Also present at the conference was Keegan Kirkpatrick, the founder and team leader of RedWorks, a private company that has designed a Martian habitat that uses a 3-D printer for its construction.

Concept of a future Mars colony
A colony on Mars could be partially, if not almost entirely, constructed of 3D printed materials. [Image by Flashinmirror/Shutterstock]

At present, there are several nations — including the U.S. and China — expressing interest in missions to Mars. Billionaire businessman Elon Musk has made not only a mission to Mars an imperative for his company SpaceX, he has stated that he would like to see a colony on the Red Planet within the next few decades.

[Featured Image by Andrey VP/Shutterstock]