AMS Spring 2023

3D Printed Art in a Lunar Gallery? Singapore Sends First 3D Printed Artifact to the Moon

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There are roughly 19,000 galleries across 124 countries in 3,533 cities worldwide. Urban sites in the US, UK, and Germany are among the most active in the art gallery scene, accounting for more than 50% of all existing art shops. However, a new gallery will take visitors’ breath away–literally. It’s not in London, New York, or Berlin, but on the Moon. Thanks to an initiative by the Moon Gallery Foundation, 3D-printed art will be displayed on the lunar surface.

Contributing to establishing the first lunar outpost and permanent museum on Earth’s only natural satellite, the Moon Gallery Foundation is developing a lunar art gallery set to launch in 2025. This artistic oasis in the shadow of infinite space will integrate 100 artworks from artists worldwide within the compact format of a 10x10x1 centimeter grid plate on a lunar lander exterior paneling. So far, the organization has gathered 87 works, and each tiny piece (measuring less than 1x1x1 cm) is being carefully displayed on the grid panel and can be seen on the organization’s website.

A 10x10x1 cm grid plate displaying 100 artworks for a lunar art gallery.

The Moon Gallery Foundation has created a 10x10x1 cm grid plate displaying 100 artworks for a lunar art gallery. Image courtesy of the Moon Gallery Foundation.

Among the shortlisted pieces, there will be a 3D printed artifact developed by Singaporean architect and designer Lakshmi Mohanbabu, in collaboration with a team of additive manufacturing (AM) experts at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) led by College of Engineering professor and metal AM whiz Matteo Seita.

Dubbed the “Structure and Reflectance” cube, Mohanbabu’s art is described as “a marriage between art and technology,” signifying a “unifying message of an integrated world, making it a quintessential signature of humankind on the Moon.” The cube’s early-stage prototyping and design iterations were done using 3D printing at NTU’s Singapore Centre for 3D Printing (SC3DP), an advanced central hub for AM research and development.

The "Structure and Reflectance" Cube.

The “Structure and Reflectance” Cube. Image courtesy of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Initially, the NTU Singapore team at SC3DP produced a few iterations of the Moon-Cube using metal 3D printing with different materials, like Inconel and stainless steel. For the newest iteration of the cube, the team decided to ingrain crystals using laser powder bed fusion technology. Revealed to the naked eye by the microscopic differences in the surface roughness, the crystals reflect light in different directions.

Commenting on the meaning behind the choice of materials, Seita said, “Like people, materials have a complex ‘structure’ resulting from their history—the sequence of processes that have shaped their constituent parts—which underpins their differences. Masked by an exterior façade, this structure often reveals little underlying quality in materials or people. The cube is a material representation of a human’s complex structure embodied in a block of metal consisting of two crystals with distinct reflectivity and complementary shape.”

Each of the cube’s sides illustrates a different symbol. For the artists behind the project, each symbol portrays a quest to discover the universe’s secrets but fused into a single cube; it embodies the “unity of mankind.”

The side coined “Primary” is divided into two triangles which represent the two faces of the Moon. While the second side, called “Windmill,” has two spiraling windmill forms, one clockwise and another counter-clockwise, representing our existence, energy, and time. On the third surface, the team printed a labyrinth of nested squares representing “the layers that space explorers are unraveling to discover the enigma of the universe” and is called Dromenon. Finally, the last piece of this cube is Nautilus, visually reminiscent of the spiraling form of human DNA.

Four faces of the "Structure and Reflectance" Cube.

Four faces of the “Structure and Reflectance” Cube. Image courtesy of the Lakshmi’s Studio.

“The optical contrast on the cube surface from the crystals generates an intricate geometry which signifies the duality of man: the complexity of hidden thought and expressed emotion. This duality is reflected by the surface of the Moon where one side remains in plain sight, while the other has remained hidden to humankind for centuries; until space travel finally allowed us to gaze upon it. The bright portion of the visible side of the Moon is dependent on the Moon’s position relative to the Earth and the Sun. Thus, what we see is a function of our viewpoint,” reflects Mohanbabu.

The final 3D printed piece was part of a collaborative project supported by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC). This national program office accelerates the adoption and commercialization of AM technologies. Aiming to expand humanity’s cultural dialogue beyond Earth, Singapore’s cube and the other works of art will meet the cosmos for the first time in low Earth orbit (LOW) in 2022 after launching on a test flight in collaboration with Nanoracks, a private in-space service provider.

Later on, the gallery will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Cygnus NG-17 rocket as part of a Northrop Grumman resupply mission in February 2022. This precursor mission will contribute to understanding the future possibilities for art in space and strengthen the collaboration between the art world and the space community. After some time, the gallery will return to Earth as part of a NanoLab technical payload, a module for space research experiments. Then the gallery will be prepped for a final mission in 2025, when it will find a permanent home base on the Moon.

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