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Ok, so Foster and Partners have been working for the European Space Agency to develop a system to print buildings on the moon. I read the same news like 25 times in different blogs, and magazines since Jan 31st. Yes, it is the type of short news that travels the web at lightning speed, but I think that considering the last time the man was on the moon was in 1972 maybe it's just that, a short article intended to give a lot of publicity to Foster, the ESA and Monolite UK, (the company that have envisioned the large scale 3D printer system called D-Shape) because they added the "one the moon" ending.
Although there are rumors of plans from China to go to the moon, not much of it is known to be really true. So as I see it, the "moon" part of the news is not very relevant on the short term (although it is the reason why everyone is talking about it). What makes an interesting read is what's behind the technology to do that. The guys at Monolite UK have developed the D-Shape printer, a 3D printer that can actual print things as big as 6 by 6 meters, not bad at all.
What is even more interesting is the materials used as a building substance. According to the sources, the D.-Shape printer: "returns any type of sand, dust or gravel back to its original Compact Stone state. The Stone is very similar to Marble (...) and with a resistance and traction much superior to Portland Cement (sic), so much so that there is no need to use iron to reinforce the structure". Well, if that is true, I think the real innovation is that, much more than the fact that they have built a 3D model to show structures on the moon.
Why this is not being used already in real buildings if it is cheaper, faster, stronger and allows all kind of shapes like the inventors claim? No idea, something might still not be 100% proof ready, but anyways its an interesting experiment.
Related to this, I remembered a video I saw some months ago about a research going on at a research group at the University of Southern California. The research is called Contour Crafting, and it aims to something very similar, to be able to sort of print parts of the building and to actually use a sort of huge crane to automate construction. Here is a video about it.This research from USC, although it has some points I think they need rethinking, seems more developed than the "print on the moon" experiment. It is based on using some standard construction procedures combined with the automation of a big part of the construction of the structure. Is this the (near?) future?
So let's think about it, printing on the moon when we don't know exactly how to do it on earth seems a bit of a far shot, but these too experiments show a trend that I think will slowly evolve and that has huge repercussion, the slow replacement of construction man-labor by machine automated work. Let's review in a couple of years how much of this is actually on the real world!