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European Space Agency wants to 3D-print a moon base

What if you could use 3D-printing technology to build a fully habitable base on the moon? The European Space Agency is trying to make that a reality.

The concept of 3D printing in space isn't new. Back in September, a high-tech 3D printer was sent to the International Space Station to help astronauts print tools, parts and other needed supplies. But what if we could bring 3D printing to the moon? What if we could build an entire habitable lunar base using a 3D printer?

That's exactly what the European Space Agency (ESA) has been exploring since 2013, and on Thursday the ESA, in partnership with architectural firm Foster+Partners, released a video showing conceptually how this might work. Based on the concepts presented in the video, the ESA would send an unmanned shuttle to the moon equipped with a robot, a robot-controlled 3D printer and an inflatable dome habitat that would serve as the livable core of the lunar base.

The robot and printer would essentially 3D print an exoskeleton using moon dust collected from the moon's surface to protect an inflatable dome that serves as a lunar base. This protection is needed to shield the habitat from the extreme temperature fluctuations on the moon's surface, solar radiation and meteorites. Windows would draw in natural sunlight to the living and working areas, and the capsule that brought the gear to the moon would serve as both the airlock and technical support module to keep the inflatable base up and running.

It would take about three months to build the base from start to finish, and once completed it could be inhabited by up to four astronauts.

Of course, this is all still conceptual, and we're likely years off from an actual 3D-printed lunar base, but it's very likely that, sometime in the not-too-distant future, our astronauts will be living on the moon in something that was made in one of those weird 3D printers that we're just starting to use on Earth.

This is what the 3D-printed Lunar Base might look like. Video screenshot by Anthony Domanico/CNET