How homes on the Moon will be created by robotic 3D printers
Mankind has taken one small step closer to colonising the Moon after the European Space Agency (ESA) revealed its latest plans to provide affordable housing - something we can't even manage in London.
It's 45 years since human beings first stepped on the rocky satellite, yet we're still yet to solve the problem of how to cost-effectively get enough building materials up there to put together permanent - and safe - structures.
Now, thanks to the magic of 3D printing, experts say the first people could be living on the Moon in as little as 40 years.
The ESA's latest video briefing shows more fleshed-out plans for how robotic 3D printers on wheels would, with a single unit, collect material from the surface of the Moon and convert it into a radiation- and meteor-resistant coating for human accommodation.
It is a while since the ESA set out its idea for transporting self-contained pod-like homes to the distant rock using individual rockets. Multiple pods would eventually link together to form larger "terraces" of structures, each with its own airlock and technical support module.
But the new release shows how "regolith", the dusty material that coats the surface of the Moon, could be harnessed to coat the inflatable domes that would otherwise be vulnerable to the harsh off-Earth elements.
The research has been carried out by the ESA with the help of architects Foster + Partners, who said that as with all Moon colonisation plans the 3D printing scheme was still on the drawing board.
But Scott Hovland, from ESA's human spaceflight team, said: "3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth."
Xavier De Kestelier, from the specialist modelling team at Foster + Partners, said: "As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on Earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials. Our lunar habitation follows a similar logic."