Foster + Partners’ rendering of a moon habitat whose dome would be “3D printed” from local materials.

The most exciting space science developments of the next fifty years will echo those from fifty years ago. Between the period from 1969-1972, the United States sent six manned missions to Earth’s moon, but since then we’ve sent only unmanned craft or ballistics to our nearest celestial neighbor. Today some very creative and ambitious architects describe how they could use 3D printing technology to create a habitable building on the moon:

The practice has designed a lunar base to house four people, which can offer protection from meteorites, gamma radiation and high temperature fluctuations. The base is first unfolded from a tubular module that can be transported by space rocket. An inflatable dome then extends from one end of this cylinder to provide a support structure for construction. Layers of regolith are then built up over the dome by a robot-operated 3D printer to create a protective shell.

Read more about Foster + Partners interesting project in collaboration with the European Space Agency.

What this means for space exploration

The possibility of a permanent base on the moon could fuel renewed interest and improve the economics of missions to the moon, much as the International Space Station has helped humanity “inhabit” an Earth orbit.

BBC news coverage of the lunar base design notes that 3D printing may also be used to manufacture products using asteroid mining. Click here for another BBC story about hunting asteroids.

For an illustration of how 3D printing could be used to fabricate houses, check out this video from Foster + Partners and the European Space Agency:

For a super-fun and recent example of 3D printing used for fashion, check out this video from Paris Fashion Week 2013: