Future of Space after Pluto: 3D-printed moon base on far side of the moon?

It's prime time for NASA's New Horizons and Pluto, but ESA’s Director General says the future is a 3D-printed village on the far side of the moon before potentially 3D-printing a base on Mars.

Mars outpost
Credit: NASA

You might be able to envision a future that includes 3D-printed housing, but the new Director General of the European Space Agency believes mankind’s future should include a 3D-printed village on the far side of the moon. Professor Johann-Dietrich Woerner, the ESA’s Director General, told BBC that it’s time “to look to a future beyond the International Space Station;” Woerner proposed a future that includes “smaller spacecraft in low-Earth orbit for microgravity research” and “a moon village on the far side of the moon.”

Woerner added:

“The far side of the moon is very interesting because we could have telescopes looking deep into the Universe, we could do lunar science on the moon and the international aspect is very special,” he explains. “The Americans are looking to go to Mars very soon – and I don’t see how we can do that – before going to Mars we should test what we could do on Mars on the moon.”

3D-printed village on the far side of the moon Science Photo Library via BBC

Woerner suggests, the technology being investigated by NASA to construct a Mars base using a giant 3D printer would be better tried out on the moon first. Learning to live on an alien world is going to be tough – but the challenge would be a lot easier, particularly in an emergency, if the extraterrestrial community is only four days away from Earth rather than six months.

Prime time for Pluto

Pluto NASA

Meanwhile, it’s a busy time for NASA as its New Horizons spacecraft is about to buzz past Pluto at about 30,800 miles per hour and you can ride along…sort of. The three-billion-mile journey has taken over nine years and NASA wants to share it with you via its “Eyes on Pluto” app for PC and Mac.

Eyes on Pluto NASA

The picture in picture view shows you where the spacecraft is looking and what its advanced instruments can see. You can use a “live” mode to see what New Horizons is doing right now, or preview the flyby of the Pluto System. The spacecraft will be busiest during the time of closest approach between July 13th and 15th 2015 where you will see the spacecraft turn from target to target as it flies past Pluto at over 30,000 miles per hour. Click launch to get started, or use the “tours and features” button from inside Eyes on the Solar System.

Watch out, as if you love space then Eyes on Pluto is a real time eater. For mobile devices, another option is Pluto Safari for Android and iOS. It’s described as “your interactive guide to the first mission to Pluto.”

Pluto Safari Pluto Safari

The app includes a countdown timer for when New Horizons reaches Pluto, a simulated view of what New Horizons sees, a multimedia guide to Pluto, a bird’s-eye view of the solar system, a timeline and more. The images used by the app, according to the Mac Observer, were created by “the folks behind New Horizons. They are both scientifically accurate (Hubble Telescope data) and aesthetically pleasing. We'll replace these textures with the actual Pluto map whenever that gets released post-flyby.”

On Tuesday morning the New Horizons spacecraft, which is approximately the size of a baby grand piano, will fly about 7,800 miles above Pluto’s surface; 14 minutes later it will pass within about 18,000 miles of Pluto’s moon Charon. A suite of seven science instruments will be hoovering up as much data as possible as mankind has its “first-ever look at the icy dwarf planet.” Pluto is 30 times farther away from Earth than our sun.

“We're going to knock your socks off,” promised Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto. “What NASA's doing with New Horizons is unprecedented in our time and probably something close to the last train to Clarksville, the last picture show, for a very, very long time.”

Just yesterday NASA shared new images of Pluto’s biggest moon Charon after it was radioed to Earth.

Charon NASA

Charon has a crater near its equator that is about 60 miles across and a chasm in its southern hemisphere that “is longer and miles deeper than Earth’s Grand Canyon.” Besides learning that Charon is not a “featureless ball of ice,” but instead a “world displaying all kinds of geologic activity,” scientists see a “mysterious dark region” near Charon’s north pole and it stretches for 200 miles. Scientists hope New Horizons will capture more details to help unravel the dark and mysterious region.

Pluto heart NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

So far New Horizons has provided a Pluto image (above) showing a “heart-shaped light surface” and a “whale-shaped dark surface,” but as the spacecraft gets closer, the images should be “100 times sharper;” the best photos “should be sharp enough to show features that are 230 feet (70 meters) wide — the equivalent of New York's Central Park on Earth.”

Did you know New Horizons is carrying the “first American to discover a planet in our solar system” in a tiny memorial canister that is about two inches wide and half-an-inch tall? American astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered Pluto and now his cremated remains are about to fly past his discovery; “New Horizons will eventually escape our solar system altogether and enter interstellar space. As such, Tombaugh's remains have become the first to be launched to the stars.”

It takes about four-and-a-half hours for radio signals to travel one-way between the spacecraft and flight controllers. New Horizon's will pass Pluto on Tuesday, but it will be Wednesday before the “closest of Pluto's close-ups are available for release. And it will be well into next year — October 2016 — before all the anticipated data are transmitted to Earth.”

Interactive Mars Trek

If you need more of “space,” then you can check out NASA’s newly launched interactive map of Mars. It’s like Google Earth but for Mars, allowing you to view the planet in 2D and 3D.

Mars Trek NASA

Mars Trek will let you zoom into specific areas on Mars, virtually explore the red planet’s volcanoes, valleys and navigate to landing sites of rovers and robotic spacecraft like Curiosity, Opportunity, Spirit and Sojourner. There are also tools with analysis functionality such as 3D printing. Regarding measurements, you can get the info in units that are relevant to you, such as miles, kilometers, soccer fields, school buses and even a bridge. For example, you might learn that a crater is the length of 22 Golden Gate Bridges.

Who knows, you might even find the perfect spot for a future 3D-printed outpost on Mars?

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