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by Boris Pavlishev
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Oct 11, 2013
The first human settlers on Mars will use a 3D printer to print dwellings, greenhouses and even cutlery, in short, all they will need to live on the Red Planet. In the process, they will use the raw materials that are available over there. The Mars Foundation noncommercial organization has shared plans to that end.
But experts point out that one shouldn't overestimate the potential of 3D printers. The Mars Van Company, as well as the founder of SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, Elon Musk, are also going to build colonial settlements on Mars in the next 10 to 20 years.
3D printers may come in handy in terrestrials' settling on Mars. The Mars Foundation says it will use them to print all that the first settlers may require, including residential homes and interior items. These will be made of three types of plastic, namely polyethylene, polyester and epoxy-resin.
To obtain them, one will need oxygen and methane. Mars Foundation experts claim they know how to get the materials in question outside the Earth. The first settlers will also need fiberglass and cement, and they will make them from the sand that Mars is covered in. As the settlers build and make operational their greenhouse, they will also use potato starch in the printing process.
But they will hardly manage to print big-size parts, so they will have to bring along a laser cutter to cut the "printed" plastic sheets, to stick together structures of any size. The pioneers will have to print even their food; - the printer will mix up special-purpose powders with water so the dish would look like and have a taste of omelet or bacon, for example.
The idea of building this kind of settlement on Mars is feasible, but will call for mindboggling investments, feels a News of Cosmonautics magazine observer, Igor Lisov.
"Building a colonial settlement on Mars is feasible, as long as one is prepared to pay 100 billion dollars or more".
But some experts point out that if the colonists choose to stay on Mars for good and will not have to be brought back to the Earth, the project will cost less. This is precisely the assumption that Mars Van, Elon Musk and Mars Foundation proceed from. This will help save money. Also, a one-way space rocket with an expedition on board may prove lighter.
The original prime equipment cargo with the first colonists will exceed the Curiositymoon rover weight by a factor of ten. This will also depend on the progress that researchers have made in waste processing before the expedition blasts off.
The Martian project will spur technological development on the Earth, says a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics, named after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Andrei Ionin.
"All technologies, namely 3D printers, waste recycling systems, the biotechnologies that help man survive in extreme conditions are effectively commercialized on earth. The money invested will be returned quite soon, for this is the idea of a one-way Martian project. Creating technologies of great commercial potential on the Earth will help carry out the project with the minimum government funding".
Still, it will take a lot more than 10 years or 20 years to build Martian bases using printers. Such printers are still in "swaddling clothes", says a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Yuri Karash.
"When I first heard about the plans to use printers to print a base on another planet, I thought of the development of helicopters in the early 1950s. It was held then that a helicopter would eventually become very much like a bicycle, that any family would be able to buy a helicopter for a car price to fly to a shop, to a movie theatre or a park, to stroll there. There used to be similar plans for nuclear energy.
It was held once that people would have nuclear-powered aircraft, cars and even wrist watches. But this is still not the case. What may seem easy enough on paper or in a lab may prove pretty difficult to achieve in practice".
A 3D printer is a machine tool that virtually prints parts from plastic or other materials in keeping with the parameters indicated in a special drawing file. Next year, this kind of printer is due to be tested on board the International Space Station for the first time.
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