So my daughter is graduating high school, but is already taking a class in 3-D printing.
(This little guy pictured here was made experimenting in the class and was a precious gift from her.)
Already prophetically envisioned in Star Trek as "the replicator," this technology has been around in primitive trial form since the 1980's.
In 3-D printing, alloyed material is successively layered under computer control to make complex shapes and products.
It makes traditional 2-D printing (on paper) look like rubbing two sticks together to build a fire (circa the paleolithic period of mankind thousands of years ago).
The promise of 3-D printing for advanced manufacturing is absolutely incredible.
The Wall Street Journal describes how NASA researchers and engineers are working toward using 3-D printers in space to "make bricks suitable for airtight buildings and radiation proof shelters" simply using the sand already on Mars.
Moreover, the astronauts on their journey may be eating pizza from these printers as well (except for the sand, but still probably better than MREs--Haha).
Already objects have been printed "19 feet long...stone-like building blocks weighing one-and-a-half ton each"!
In the future, 3-D printers could be sent in advance to planets we look to colonize and "lay down landing pads, roads, and shelters" in preparation of our arrival.
These printers could even build working replicas of themsleves or "swarms of self-assembling construction robots" boosting our capacity for even more building.
Moreover, technology is in the works to recycle from 3-D printing by melting down the printed products back into material that could be reused for new printing projects.
On Earth, where we have long been drawing down our natural resources as well as polluting our environment, the prospect of going to other worlds where their are new resources and we actually have the ability to use them constructively is humanity's chance for a whole new chapter of life beyond. ;-)
(Source Photo: Rebecca Blumenthal)