Building a lunar base out of Moon dust

(ominous music) – That’s how they walked
on the moon, right? – Yeah, nice big steps. (laughter) – [Loren] Someday, humans will
travel to the moon and Mars. But we probably won’t be
able to bring everything that we need with us when we go. So, we’re going to have to get creative. We’re going to need to live off the land. That means utilizing the natural resources of that location to survive. And NASA is working on that. Welcome to Swamp Works at
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Here, engineers are
dreaming up new technologies that will help astronauts
live on the surface of other worlds, like the moon and Mars. Nathan Gelino, a research engineer at NASA put it more succinctly. – You can think of us like the pioneers during the Gold Rush. – [Loren] Nathan is working
on tools to help astronauts use the resources they’ll
find on other worlds. An obvious resource
that’s crucially important to human settlement is water. Scientists are pretty
sure that large deposits of water ice exist on the moon, which could be harvested
for future missions. – Water can be used for
life support systems, drinking water, watering plants, but water is also rocket fuel. So, if you use cryogenic
oxygen and cryogenic hydrogen, and mix them together, that’s
what rockets use to fly. So, you can think of it as being a lunar gas station, as well. – [Loren] And both the
moon and Mars are covered with another key resource. Regolith, or interplanetary dirt. It’s the rocky, powdery soil
found on the moon and Mars, but it doesn’t have the abundance of organic materials that our soil has. NASA’s interested in using the regolith in a number of different
ways, like building tools, furniture, and even habitats. – It’s not practical to send
concrete to the moon or Mars. And, so, we want to learn how
to make building materials out of the resources
that are available there. – So, let’s say I’m going to the moon, but I want to build a
habitat there, first. What are the things that I need to set up beforehand, to make that happen? – First, we need to figure
out exactly where they are. We need to do prospecting. We have very small rovers
and flyers that are designed to quickly go and take
samples in remote locations, and find out whether or
not there’s the material that you’re interested in, there. – Yeah, send the robots to do that first. – That’s exactly right. – [Loren] The best way to
design a robot for prospecting in lunar dirt is to practice
with the stuff here on Earth. And at Swamp Works, engineers
have built a mini lunar surface based on what we know
about the moon’s regolith. I swear, this job always requires me to get into weird body suits. (zipper zips) Ta-da! Welcome to the lunar surface. (techno music) So, this is what the
lunar surface feels like? – [A.J.] Right, so this is a very, what we call a physical simulant. – [Loren] Okay. – [A.J.] And, so, it mimics
the physical properties of the lunar simulant really well. – So, when they were hopping on the moon, it felt a bit like they were on the beach? – Yep. – So crazy. You just would not think that this is the texture of the moon. – [A.J.] Right. – It feels very pillow-y. (laughs) NASA has designed a prototype
robot called “Razor” designed to harvest lunar soil, so that astronauts can build with it. – And, so the whole goal of
this robot was to be able to dig when you don’t weigh very much, and you’re in a reduced gravity. So, we tackled this in
a couple different ways. The first was these bucket drums. And, so, these are actually the excavation and storage tool for the excavator. These scoops, when it’s
spinning in this direction, it’s digging, and then if
you spin it this direction, it’s able to dump. – So, it’s basically like
one big rotating shovel? – Right. Exactly. – [Loren] So, once you
have your lunar soil, then what do you do with it? Well, it’s time to turn
it into building material. NASA has found a way to
combine regolith with polymers like plastics or resins
in just the right way to create the raw material for printing. And where do you get polymers? Well, astronaut trash should do the trick. You can take your trash, combine it with Mars or lunar soil, – Yep. – Mush it together, and you’ve
got your printer feed stock. – Yep. So, you mush it together in a very specific mixture ratio. – Okay. – And, what you get is a
polymer composite concrete. And, so you can make that
polymer composite concrete either using the granular
material right off the ground, or you can heat up and draw out that granular material into a glass fiber. And then, if you use the glass
fiber it makes the material really strong, like
carbon fiber or Kevlar. – And that’s what we’re
using today, right? – And that’s what we’re
going to use today. – Right, we’ve got this
is what we’re going to be pouring into the 3-D printer. You have a whole bunch of trinkets here. – So, those are called “regos”. Those aren’t actually printed,
those are centered regolith. – [Loren] Yeah? – [Nathan] But they’re
regolith Legos, “regos”. – [Loren] Love it. Regos are great, but for
more complex structures, NASA wants to use its
regolith concrete for full on 3-D printing. – [Nathan] With this material
you can do any kind of simple structure that you might need, whether it’s a habitat, or a blast wall, or a road, or maybe a hangar. But, you also can print furniture or any other kind of things you need. So, we’re going to print a podium. – [Loren] I need a
podium when I’m going to run the government on Mars. So, I need to bang my gavel on something. This was a pretty slow
process, so we didn’t get to stick around to see the whole podium. In theory, though, this
technology is a game changer. It could one day enable
the big settlements on the moon and Mars that we
all love to dream about. But, if NASA wants to
build entire colonies this way, they’ll have to speed things up. – [Nathan] Luckily, this is the first iteration of this design. And the next round, we’re
hoping to go to about 100 pounds per hour,
which will significantly decrease the amount of time
that it takes to print things. – [Loren] Oh, so how long
would it take for this podium to be built, if
that were going that fast? – I’d say 15 minutes.
– Oh, wow! – Yeah. – [Loren] Call me when
you’re up at that rate and we’ll come back.
– [Nathan] That sounds good. (laughter)

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