3D Printed Human Artifacts are Being Sent to the Moon with Hopes of Surviving Billions of Years


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The Moon Arts Ark Capsules

It was July of 1969, and all of the world watched as humans landed on the moon. Soon thereafter, American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to step foot on Earth’s lone natural satellite. With this feat came celebration of man’s accomplishment, the technology that we were able to accomplish and a promising future of further space exploration. At the time of the moon landing, enthusiasm was high, with many people wondering just how much further we would advance in space travel in the years to follow.

moon1It turns out that in the 46 years since this incredible accomplishment, we haven’t really progressed all that much further. Since that time, 10 other people have stepped foot on the moon, and we have sent robots to explore other destinations in our solar system, such as Mars. Now, Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotic Institute looks to send a rover to the moon next year, in competition for the Google Lunar X Prize. In doing so, they also have grand plans in place for a very unique gesture and gift to the moon.

That gift comes in the form of what they are calling the “Moon Arts Ark,” a project that has been 7 years in the making. This gift will be enclosed in 3D printed chambers, which were printed by 3rd Dimension Industrial 3D Printing, using a 3D Systems ProX200 3D printer.

“We have been working with Mark Baskinger (of Carnegie Mellon University) over the past year to refine the design to be additively manufactured in AlSi12,” Bob Markley of 3rd Dimension Industrial 3D Printing tells 3DPrint.com. “The geometry is symbolic as well as weight saving. A significant driver of cost to go to the moon is weight, so we have worked on reducing material used.”


In fact, the creators had just 6 ounces to work with as far as available payload goes for the project. That means that reduction of weight for the Moon Arts Ark cages/chambers had to be kept as low as possible. Within these 3D printed chambers will be a time capsule of sorts, a time capsule which conceivably could last billions of years on the moon.

Created by a team of artists, designers, engineers and scientists from around the world, the time capsule is intended to be a gift to the moon itself. It will contain elements that represent all of the arts and humanities that we have here on Earth, including music, drama, ballet, poetry, architecture and general art, all of which will engage the “most advanced sciences, engineering, technologies, and material science from the nano- and micro- scales towards the infinite scales, including ongoing deep space radio wave transmissions.”


The time capsule itself will include four chambers which each hold two engraved sapphire disks, microcapsules with evidence of life on Earth, metal sculptures, dye sublimation imagery and various information that comes in the form of imagery, physical traces and data.

“The shape of the chambers is based on an extruded pentagon that is offset between the top and bottom profiles to form the faceted edges,” Mark Baskinger, Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, tells 3DPrint.com. “Within the facets, the cage structure is formed by using the golden [triangle] which relates to the inherent geometries in naturally growing forms. This concept stems from the lower disk in the earth chamber which shows earth’s biodiversity and features a cast gold capsule in the shape of an icosahedron. Why an icosahedron? Because it is the nearest platonic geometry to a radiolorian (plankton) — the most basic life forms in the oceans who are completely dependent upon the currents which are dependent upon the moon. When you cut an icosahedron in half, the section is a pentagon.”


Many of us look at the moon and simply see a large glowing ball or portion thereof in our night’s sky. However, the reality is that this glowing ball actually has a profound and helpful effect on our planet, thus what better way of repaying this large celestial body with this tribute as a way of saying thank you?

As for why 3D printing was used for the chambers, researchers had looked at various means of fabrication, but in the end believed that this technology was the best method currently available.

“We have only 6 oz of total payload, so the cage structure has to be extremely lightweight,” Baskinger tells us. “3D printing has proven to be the best method of fabrication that could yield the form we designed in a material that could perform to the specs required for space applications.”

moon2Eight of these chambers have been 3D printed, with four being sent to the moon, and another four remaining here on Earth to create yet another identical Moon Art Ark which will be exhibited for all to see here at home. In fact, following the landing and the exploration of the rover on the moon, the project will be exhibited in Paris and 10 other European cities.

As for what went into the 3D printing process, these aluminum printed chambers were created using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) on one of 3D Systems’ most advanced 3D printers, the ProX200. The process of printing each set of chambers takes 8.5 hours to complete.

We all know that 3D printing is beginning to make its mark here on Earth. We have also seen this to be the case in space, with the recent projects undertaken by Made in Space and NASA to print objects from the International Space Station. Next year will be the first time that 3D printing actually makes its way to another celestial body, thanks to Carnegie Mellon University, 3rd Dimension Industrial 3D Printing, 3D Systems and all others involved.

What do you think about this project, and the ability for these chambers to be 3D printed in aluminum? Will they last billions of years on the moon, leaving a mark of human presence perhaps after our species has gone extinct? Discuss in the Moon Arts Ark project forum thread on 3DPB.com.




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