Fish Scales and Lunar Dust May Hold the Key to Building on the Moon
That we’ve all likely considered relocating to another planet at some point this year may be no bad thing, according to a team of scientists from the Singapore University of Technology and Design. In a recent study published in the journal PLOS One, the group describes their experiments with the organic polymer chitin that demonstrate its viability as a building material for tools and habitats on Mars and the moon. Given both locations’ limited natural resources and the high cost of transporting matter into space, developing a way to use existing materials to make essential objects is paramount—particularly for NASA, which plans to place astronauts on the lunar surface in 2024, and in 2028, to begin setting up a permanent base there.
In their research, the scientists mixed chitin—the main component in insect exoskeletons and fish scales (and a recurring element in the work of designer and MIT Media Lab professor Neri Oxman, who was the guest on Ep. 16 of our Time Sensitive podcast)—with a mineral equivalent to Martian soil. They used it to successfully construct an array of objects, including a working wrench, cylinders, cubes, and a house. Elsewhere, other proposals for alternative building materials include using Sorel cement and blending lunar soil with astronauts’ urine.
The Danish architecture practice Bjarke Ingels Group recently unveiled Project Olympus, a research initiative looking to develop structures that can be 3D-printed out of lunar dust. Working with the Austin-based construction firm Icon, the project has been partially funded by the U.S. Air Force and NASA with the hope that it will lead to housing solutions back on our planet, too—a dual purpose that Icon’s founder, Jason Ballard, finds particularly exciting. Figuring out how to build on the moon requires “pushing the boundaries on reliability, the resilience of the actual engineering and the machinery, [and] the limits of autonomy,” he recently told Fast Company. “It’s actually going to make construction on Earth even faster, even cheaper.”