Science 3 min read

3D Printing Lunar Bases and Rovers That Sequence Space DNA

Pavel Chagochkin |

Pavel Chagochkin |

New technologies allow us to tackle the obstacles toward making space exploration and colonization a viable option for human evolution. 3D printing is a huge part of that.

Interplanetary travel is a hobbyhorse of Elon Musk, who has many (see Hyperloop and the Boring Company).

Musk created SpaceX back in 2002 to help advance space technologies within the private sector. SpaceX’s reusable spacecraft seek to make space more practical and less costly. It could be said that one of Musk’s ultimate goals is to enable humans to live outside of Earth, and he even has a plan to colonize Mars.

The question of “how we get there?” seems less pressing than “what do we do once we’re there?” Getting to Mars, or any other planet is only the beginning of a much more challenging endeavor.

First of all, in the early stages, how do we build settlements for explorers and scientists on other planets? Secondly, how are these people able to explore safely the extreme extra-terrestrial environments in search of life and resources?

MIT’s 3D Fabrication System to Build Lunar Bases

On Earth, 3D printing technology is making it possible to build complete structures.

We have recently covered MIT’s Digital Construction Platform (DCP) that was featured in April’s issue of Science Robotics. The DCP prototype, designed by the Mediated Matter Group at MIT, is a robotic arm system mounted on a mobile vehicle, with great flexibility and rapid setup times. Such a flexible and autonomous construction system could make the construction of lunar bases fast, relatively inexpensive, and safe.

MIT's DCP could be 3D printing lunar bases before you know it.Click To Tweet

While the use of MIT’s DCP for building bases off Earth is a potential application, the ESA, or the European Space Agency, is already exploring this path and testing the feasibility of 3D printing for efficient construction of lunar bases from local materials.

Detecting Alien Life In-Situ DNA Sequencing

All exploration missions on the surfaces of planets, moons, and asteroids conducive to life being carried out–such as NASA’s Martian Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity)–are outfitted with Sample Analysis suites for chemical analysis. At an FISO conference titled “Towards In-Situ Sequencing for Life Detection” scientists debated over the search for life beyond Earth.

By the way, if you didn’t know, ‘in-situ,’ is used to mean ‘locally,’ or ‘in position.’

With NASA support, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Genomes (SETG) is working to develop systems that test in-situ for extra-terrestrial life. The SETG team seeks to design an instrument that can be used by automated missions for the detection, isolation, and classification of DNA/RNA-based organisms in extra-terrestrial, hazardous environments.

DNA sequencing is already a complex and lengthy process down here on Earth, let alone in space. Until recently, astronauts at the ISS couldn’t perform DNA sequencing for lack of portable DNA testing devices. But last year, NASA sent a small, lightweight and portable Biomolecule Sequencer and the first-ever DNA sequencing in space was completed.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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