We’ve written a lot of articles about 3D printing on the moon, as international space agencies and private companies alike race to return to the lunar surface. We haven’t written much about actually 3D printing the moon, though – perhaps because it’s not exactly a common hobby. I’d love to try it, though. For most people, the moon is a remote, luminous vision in the night sky. On a particularly clear night, you can see its shadowy mountains and craters in astonishing clarity, but you’re still aware that you’re looking at a faraway image of something you’ll never touch. Now imagine actually being able to run your hands over the moon’s surface, feeling its rocky topography in detail. You can almost feel the moon dust, can’t you?
While 3D printing the moon isn’t quite the equivalent of standing on its surface, it’s still an amazing way to see up close something that most of us will only ever view from afar. Thatcher Chamberlin is the creator of the fascinating Terrain2STL program, which allows users to 3D print terrain from anywhere in the world using Google Maps. The program easily converts digital map data into STL files so that you can print flawless replicas of your favorite locations.
Chamberlin has now taken his program to the moon. Not literally; to my knowledge, he’s never actually been to the moon’s surface. But he can print a detailed, accurate replica – and so can you. Moon2STL is the same concept as Terrain2STL, except that the maps have been taken from the Unified Lunar Control Network 2005, a “lunar control network and lunar topographic model” created by the US Geological Survey using images from multiple sources to create a detailed photogrammetric map of the moon’s surface.
Chamberlin imported that lunar topographical map as an STL file to his website, where you can scroll across the moon and see its surface in up-close detail, complete with ridges, bumps and craters. Tiny digital squares are positioned across the map; by taking hold of one of those squares with your mouse, you can zero in on a particular area and zoom in to get a closer look at a mountain, canyon or just some peculiar-looking topographical feature.
There’s also a tool that allows you to toggle between a photographic view of the lunar surface and an elevation map, with the landscape’s varying heights clearly demarcated by color. There’s a lot you can do with the site, and Chamberlin is always happy to answer questions or take feedback – you can contact him through this Reddit thread or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Are you interested in having a 3D print of the moon? Discuss in the 3D Print the Moon forum over at 3DPB.com.