Elon Musk has recently announced far-reaching plans for the colonization of Mars. 3D printing may play a crucial role in fulfilling them and letting us feel at home in outer space and on other planets.
One of the most important problems with space travel is delivering any indispensable items to astronauts. Obviously, certain items can be sent to them with a scheduled delivery of food, but sometimes a specific element might be needed immediately. Delivering it on time will be neither easy nor—this is also very important—cheap.
There’s no two ways about it: we’re talking about a huge enterprise in the field of logistics. You need to choose the appropriate time and place to launch the payload and make sure it reaches the space station safely. The problem will increase in difficulty as mankind attempts to explore farther and farther into space. Colonization of other planets is already on the table. And it’s not as distant a vision as some might think; according to Elon Musk the first inhabitants of Mars should land there in 2022.
It’s highly unlikely that in a few years interplanetary travel will be a matter of hours or days. Technology is developing rapidly, but not that rapidly. Sending a package to Mars will take months, maybe a full year. Therefore, sending many items to other planets might be pointless. It will be better and faster to create necessary elements on the spot and save on transportation. You just need to have enough material to build with.
A few years ago it would have sounded like a fairy tale, but now 3D printers make this vision possible. They are already able to work in outer space. On the International Space Station 3D printers are used to create plastic tools and parts that the astronauts need during the mission. In the future, the range of what 3D printers can do will keep increasing, they will be even better and even more useful. Just look at a few examples. These technologies are now being introduced, but in the future they might be available to anyone.
3D printing for future Martians
In 2013, the European Space Agency unveiled plans of using 3D printing to create more durable metal elements. This is going to be an actual revolution, as nowadays 3D printers use mainly plastics. Moreover, NASA has a keen interest in the research program of the Systems & Materials Research Corporation exploring the use of 3D printing to quickly create meals in even the harshest conditions.
Currently, the astronauts’ menu is limited, but this state of affairs cannot last. Presenting his plans for the colonization of Mars, Elon Musk said that since a trip to another planet takes a long time, it has to be made in civilized conditions. Spaceships carrying people to other worlds need to have cinemas, playing fields, and restaurants. In the months they spend in space people have to feel at home. This is impossible without good, fresh food. You are what you eat, after all.
Lack of food will be even more bitter on Mars, where it’s impossible to grow anything. Developed 3D printing technology can alleviate the problem. If we use it properly, we can build vehicles, infrastructure and houses for future Martians. And so, this technology will do both: increase the living standard of people on Earth as well as turn mankind into an interplanetary species and make the environment of other planets habitable for humans. it’s not just a figure of speech if you say that in the future 3D printing will let us reach the stars.