NASA is offering up to $2.25 million to anyone that can successfully design a habitat that can be 3D printed on Mars. The announcement is part of a broader attempt by NASA to outsource ideas and projects.
"Their new adopted home should contain everything needed to comfortably sustain human life, including cooking areas, sleeping quarters and bathroom facilities. Their jobs as geologists, land surveyors, prospectors, scientists, biologists, & engineers should also be considered while creating this structure, as it will act as a prototype for the one that they’ll reside in while on Mars," NASA said in a press release.
NASA seems to be giving out prizes for innovative like hot cake. Just a few days ago they invited people to submit ideas for how astronauts can reduce their exposure to radiation ($US29,000) and what the first colony would need to survive ($US5000). But this time, the stakes are much higher.
But if you think this is easy money... you're in for a surprise. The competition will have multiple stages, challenging inventors to not only find a way to 3D print stuff on Mars - but to 3D print a livable habitat, preferably with materials found on-site - and to do so semi-autonomously. NASA's goal is to send out these self constructing habitats to Mars before actually sending humans, so they will have to manage on their own, with local materials, or at most, materials from the spacecraft.
The first stage, called Structural Member Competition calls for ideas for new fabrication technologies, while the second stage (On-Site Habitat Competition) requires participants to show exactly how their ideas would come to fruition. Both carry a $1.1 million prize.
“We believe that 3D printing/additive manufacturing has the power to fundamentally change the way people approach design and construction for habitats, both on Earth and off,” program partner America Makes director Ralph Resnick said. It’s also hoped the technologies could be used to construct affordable housing in remote locations on Earth.
NASA is integrating 3D printing into their space projects more and more. In 2013, NASA successfully built its first 3D printed rocket engine injector, while last week they 3D-printed a copper combustion chamber capable of withstanding temperatures of over 2760 C (5000 F). 3D printing in space may actually save astronauts a lot of time and effort, and it may also improve their quality of life. Two weeks ago, astronauts onboard the ISS 3D printed an espresso machine.