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NASA Challenges Public to 3D Print Real Space Habitats for $2.25 Million in Prizes

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NASA & America Makes’ 3D Printed Habitat Challenge

3D printing has become a technology that many people believe will help us live better, more efficient lives here on Earth. However, NASA as of late, has been focusing on using this same technology to help astronauts and space explorers live betters lives and travel further outside of Earth’s atmosphere. We saw this in their partnership with Made In Space last year which led to the first ever 3D printer, not only traveling into space, but also 3D printing real objects form the International Space Station. We’ve also seen it in the numerous competitions that NASA has held to entice the general public, and in many cases school-aged children, to develop products that can be 3D printed and used in space.

This weekend at Maker Faire, NASA and America Makes announce yet another 3D printing competition — one which takes things to an entirely new and exciting level.

habitat1The 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, which is part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program, aims at bringing the reality of 3D printing large habitable structures, both here on Earth and on other planets, into existence.

One of the greatest problems for space exploration today is the challenge of keeping payloads down, while also packing enough supplies and equipment to to allow astronauts to travel longer distances and spend more time away from Earth. As we get closer and closer to the reality of forming habitats on other planets, most specifically Mars, the largest hurdle is not how to get there, nor how to survive once there, but most importantly how to build the protective habitats that will be required on these foreign soils. We can’t exactly ship hundreds or thousands of bags of concrete into space, let alone the large machinery needed to mix and lay the concrete. This is exactly what NASA and America Makes’ three-part challenge looks to solve.

The first part of the competition, which was announced on Saturday, will run through September 27. It asks participants to create “state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities 3-D printing offers”. The top 30 submissions will be judged with $50,000 in prizes being awarded at the next Maker Faire in NY.

“The future possibilities for 3D printing are inspiring, and the technology is extremely important to deep space exploration,” explained Sam Ortega, Centennial Challenges program manager. “This challenge definitely raises the bar from what we are currently capable of, and we are excited to see what the maker community does with it.”

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The next phase of the challenge is where things really get exciting. It is broken down into the “Structural Member Competition” (Level 1) and “On-Site Habitat Competition” (Level 2). Level 1 will focus on the actual 3D printing technology needed in order to, not only fabricate habitats here on earth and on other planets, but to do so using indigenous materials and recyclables which will drastically reduce payloads.

habitat2Level 2 of the competition will challenge participants to actually 3D print full-scale habitats using these indigenous and recyclable materials. Registration for both levels of the competitions open starting on September 26, 2015, and each will award an incredible $1.1 million prize.

“America Makes is honored to be a partner in this potentially revolutionary competition,” said Ralph Resnick, founding director of America Makes. “We believe that 3D printing/Additive Manufacturing has the power to fundamentally change the way people approach design and construction for habitats, both on earth and off, and we are excitedly awaiting submissions from all types of competitors.”

$2.25 million is a ton of money, so we fully expect to see plenty of participants enter all three parts of this competition. The winners may end up going down in history as the ones who helped colonize another planet for the first time. More information on this incredible challenge can be found at NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge website.

What do you think? Will you be entering this challenge? We’d love to hear your ideas. Discuss in the NASA 3D Printed Habitat forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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