NASA’s not stopping with sending people back to the moon. It wants to give them the opportunity to live there as well.
The space agency plans to build houses on the moon by 2040, according to a report in The New York Times which interviewed several NASA scientists about the work already under way. “We’re at a pivotal moment, and in some ways it feels like a dream sequence,” Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s director of technology maturation, told the Times. “In other ways, it feels like it was inevitable that we would get here.”
A subdivision on Mars is being discussed as well.
The lunar plan is called Project Olympus. And while it’s an ambitious goal, the scientists the Times spoke with said it’s currently on track.
Austin-based ICON has partnered with NASA for the project. That company uses a 3D printer to create homes out of concrete here on earth, having built over 400 in its home city to help the homeless as well as hurricane-resistant houses for the poor in rural Mexico. The company has been working with NASA since 2020, and in 2022 received $57 million to build construction systems that used Lunar and Martian resources as building materials.
The company plans to use the dust, rocks and mineral fragments in the moon’s surface to create the concrete-like substance that will make up the homes and other buildings. Using lunar materials, it’s theorized, would make the structures less vulnerable to the sharp, toxic dust that swirls on the planet’s surface.
The challenge is less one of materials as it is of physics, though. ICON’s printer will be tested in NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center next February to see how it handles the vacuum conditions and radiation levels of space. Even if they do well, they won’t be able to go to the moon until a landing pad is constructed there.
Beyond the houses, themselves, NASA is working with universities and private companies on other household items, ranging from doors to tiles to furniture. No word, yet, on how (or if) they plan to handle atmosphere.
Before any of that, though, NASA has to successfully send astronauts back to the moon. If all goes according to plan, the Artemis 2 mission will send astronauts into lunar orbit in 2024. In either 2025 or 2026, the Artemis 3 mission will land on the lunar South Pole, with the assistance of SpaceX’s Starship, returning humans to the surface.