Smart Robots Could Build ‘Snow Forts’ On The Moon One Day

The Moon is so close to us, and yet so far. Just last year the Chang’e-3 spacecraft and Yutu rover made the first soft landing on the surface in more than a generation. Humans haven’t walked in the regolith since 1972. But that hasn’t decreased the desire of some to bring people back there — with an armful of new technologies to make life easier.

Take the European Space Agency’s desire to do 3-D printing on the lunar surface. Rovers with big scoopers would pick up the moon dust and use that as raw materials to make a habitat that humans would then enjoy. Far out? Perhaps, but it is something the agency is seriously examining in consultation with Foster+Partners. See the video above.

Universe Today recently explored the value of being on the Moon or a nearby asteroid. In a nutshell, the lower gravity would make it easier to loft things from the base, making it potentially cheaper to explore the Solar System. That said, there are considerable startup costs. One thing that could be considered is the value of investing in smart robots that could build simple structures on the moon or even (gasp) build other prototypes to replace or supplement them.

As ESA explained in a 2013 blog post, the agency envisions using robots to use more “local” resources on the moon and to reduce the need to ship stuff in from planet Earth. “As a practice, we are used to designing for extreme climates on Earth and exploiting the environmental benefits of using local, sustainable materials,” stated Xavier De Kestelier of Foster + Partners specialist modelling group. “Our lunar habitation follows a similar logic.”

The new video takes that concept a bit further and specifies a location: Shackleton Crater, which receives near-constant sunlight in certain areas, next to spots that are in permanent shadow. As ESA explains, being in this crater allows the best of two scenarios: constant energy available for solar panels, but areas to build structures that would be more sensitive to extreme heat.

ESA plans to push forward its research from 2013 to look at “harnessing concentrated sunlight to melt regolith rather than using a binding liquid,” as the agency explains on its YouTube page. Moon dust structures glued together with more moon dust? Sounds like the ultimate snow fort.

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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