Let's say we get to Mars. Or ever decide to go back to the moon. It'll be far better to build everything we need using the resources available on location, rather than adding materials to the payload of the craft carrying us there.
The European Space Agency identified this in 2013, when it unveiled its plans for a 3D printed moon base, and architects have proposed 3D printing on Mars, too. And now we know it's possible, thanks to Northwestern University's Ramille Shah and her Tissue Engineering and Additive Manufacturing Laboratory.
The lab has created 3D printed objects out of Mars and Moon dust simulants, demonstrating that we could probably do the same with the real thing. The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The simulants are NASA-approved, and have similar compositions, particle shapes and particle sizes to the dust found on the Moon and on Mars. Shah's team mixed these dusts with solvents and biopolymers, then used a simple extrusion 3D printer to create a variety of objects, such as basic tools and Lego-like building blocks that can be assembled together.
These objects are over 90 percent dust, but they're also, the team said, flexible, elastic and tough, much like rubber. It can be cut, rolled, folded and shaped. The team is now working on a method of heating them in a kiln, making them into a hard, ceramic-like material.