A new study, conducted by a team of researchers in the US, has suggested that future Moon colonists will be able to use lunar rocks to create new tools. The assertion comes after the team at Washington State University used a 3D printer to make small objects out of melted simulated lunar rocks.
Throwing this idea forward, the technique could help to reduce the weight and expense of carrying materials into space, according to the researchers, who said that a digital file should suffice in the future.
Research into the game-changing technique started in 2010, when Nasa asked them to investigate whether it is possible to use lunar rocks for 3D printing. To this end, the researchers were handed simulated lunar rocks, comprising silicon, aluminium and calcium, as well as iron and magnesium oxides.
The academics were successful in creating simple 3D shapes by sending a digital file or scan to a printer. Thereafter, the printer was able to construct the objects, layer by layer, out of melted lunar regolith.
"It sounds like science fiction, but now it's really possible," reflected Professor Amit Bandyopadhyay, the lead author of the study, which looks set to make a major impression on the space industry.
Despite this, Professor Colin Pillinger, the scientist behind the ill-fated Beagle-2 mission to Mars, has poured scorn on the concept, observing that the printer would need to be really precise to be able to fabricate some of the more sophisticated parts of an aircraft.
Speaking to the BBC, he explained: "It would be nice if you could do that but I'm not sure it would work - it depends whether it is a simple mechanical component or something more complex.
"If you break your car on a motorway and have to replace your wheel, and you just print one it's a mechanical component, but if it's something more sophisticated like an electrical component to run your car, it's a different story. Of course, if you don't have to take a wheel to the Moon it's great, but if it's not a mechanical part that breaks but something more sophisticated then I'm not sure it would work."