back to article Let’s send 3D printers TO THE MOON

Science Fiction author Neal Stephenson has inspired the creation of a new project, dubbed Hieroglyph, which aims to promote discussion about big ideas humanity will actually build. The group is a response to Stephenson’s essay Innovation Starvation in which he bemoans the world’s “inability as a society to execute on the big …


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  1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    "Space is cool"

    bloody freezing cold, I'd say.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Space is cool"

      And big, really big...

    2. Ian Ferguson


      Space is not 'cold'

      A lack of atmosphere makes temperature redundant.

      It also makes disposing of excess heat somewhat problematic, except through radiation.

  2. hplasm

    The most obvious and required project-

    I'm sad to say, is the 'B-Ark'.

    All else is easy after that.

    Otherwise- a great idea.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The most obvious and required project-

      What, and all get wiped out because of a dirty telephone?

    2. Ian Ferguson

      Re: The most obvious and required project-

      The concept of the B Ark is amusing enough until you realise that's exactly what Pol Pot did.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The most obvious and required project-

        Pol Pot is responsible for creating the whole human race as we know it?

        The mice are going to be so angry.

  3. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Vernor Vinge has written several good books. A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep spring to mind as two of the best. Both very good at portraying the sheer size of the galaxy against the size of individuals.

    1. beast666
      Thumb Up

      Both great books but not a patch on his 'Across Realtime' collection IMHO. Unbelievably good.

      1. Simon_Sharwood_Reg_APAC_Editor (Written by Reg staff)

        I'm reading The children of the sky ATM. It is very fine.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      the galaxy is tinky compared with space

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >Both very good at portraying the sheer size of the galaxy against the size of individuals.

      As good as Douglas Adams?

      "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."

  4. Kharkov

    Good thinking, terrible application

    Sending stuff to pave the way and set up for people before they arrive? Great.

    Do we currently have the technology? Nope.

    3D printers? Well, if people want stuff like freaky shoes... (clear heels - Chris Rock shout out!) but building homes, digging caves, setting up infrastructure? Give it another 20 years, I'm afraid.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good thinking, terrible application

      Certainly wouldn't want to print the lunar equivalent of a JCB just yet !

      Need a hell of a buffer

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Need a hell of a buffer

        The buffers nothing, think of the price of the ink!

        It would cost more than making it out of sollid platinum.

    2. Crisp

      Re: Good thinking, terrible application

      I'm not going to be entirely convinced until we have 3D printers that can print out a 3D printer.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        >3D printers that can print out a 3D printer

        See von Neumann machines / grey goo / Hegemonising Swarm / end of the world

        be careful what you wish for!

        1. Euripides Pants

          XKCD refernce

          >See von Neumann machines

          We're already there -

      2. Loyal Commenter

        Re: Good thinking, terrible application

        3D printers that can print copies of themselves? Why has nobody thought of that yet? Oh wait, they have:

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Good thinking, terrible application

      Not just making strangely shaped shoes and jewellery that resembles diatoms. The point is that this technology would find applications (financially viable, low labour costs, safe because operators are a distance away) on Earth before being sent to the moon. It doesn't seem that tricky to scale up from millimeters in ABS plastic to meters in concrete. Failing that, it seems the sort of thing the military might throw a few dollars into.

      On the subject of politicians being unable to implement anything useful, I have just been listening to 'ABC's Late Night Live' about the decline of America. A council of buzz-cut US military leaders at a strategic thinking college have concluded that the US military strength comes from its economic strangth (not vice versa), and that the serious intervention in their nations economic affairs required cannot be accomplished by horse-traders chasing a popular vote every four years. They are not planning a coup, but suggesting a cut back in military spending and deployment, to help get the balance sheets in the black.

      It seems you can add military officers to the list of scientists, inventors and writers.

      1. squigbobble
        IT Angle

        Re: Good thinking, terrible application

        It's the economic strength but more specifically the strength of the US' manufacturing base; WWII demonstrated that with the rebuilding of the US fleet after Pearl Harbour and their ability to crank out tanks that, though inferior to the Panzer and Tiger range in head to head combat, were produced in several times the number that the Nazis could manage* thus defeating them Zerg Rush style.

        *The Nazi engineers helped a bit by overcomplicating half the things they designed for mass production.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    # We're printers on the moon

    We'll build you a coccoon

    With big conveyors

    We'll lay down layers

    And you can live here soon #

  6. Great Bu


    Skynet became self aware on 9th May 2012. Within weeks an army of moon robots had been printed out and civilisation was doomed.....

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Science Fiction author Neal Stephenson" Is that being deliberately bitchy?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Nope, what they should have said is "Overrated Science Fiction author Neal Stephenson"

    2. Simon_Sharwood_Reg_APAC_Editor (Written by Reg staff)

      I find it easier to file stephenson under sci fi. Feel free to offer an alternative characterisation

  8. james 68

    just me or was this idea touted a number of years ago?

    2005 to be precise

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Cold water alert

    This is one of those ideas that sounds cool on the surace but is actually very silly. The reason we didn't go back to the moon is that there's nothing useful there .. It's just a big rock. 3d printers are also next to useless(how do you make feedstock ?). You'd be better off with a teleoperated cnc router that worked on rocks and if you had one of those you'd be better sending it to mars.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Cold water alert

      Nothing useful on the moon, except that it isn't Earth. Taking the first steps to developing another basket might be good for the future of us eggs.

      I'm sure that research has been conducted on the properties of moon rock as a building material, but yeah, using explosives to create caves seems at first glance to offer a lot of bang for your Kilogram.

      Mars- yeah, but the health issues of the journey there haven't been licked yet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If the Soviet Union hadn't collapsed

        we'd be on Mars by now because we'd have had someone to fight against.

    2. Ian Ferguson

      Re: Cold water alert

      A big useless rock... stuffed with Helium-3.

      Not to mention that it's a hell of a lot more convenient than Mars. Not all science has to have an end result in mind - most of it is research and development. The original moon landings had no particular end purpose (well, apart from political) but look at the resulting explosion in technology and computing.

    3. Adam Azarchs

      Re: Cold water alert

      Wait, better off sending it to Mars? Mars is a complete waste of time and effort. While we could plausibly establish a long-term manned presence on the moon in the foreseeable future, a trip to Mars would be purely for show. If we want to look for life on other plants, Mars is still a waste of time compared to Europa and Ganymede (you know, places where some of the water might still be liquid?).

  10. hugo tyson


    Just: he's absolutely right about the paralysis of basically the whole of the West AFAICT in executing on anything new really, not just big stuff. Building *anything* new seems to be prevented by allowing objections on the grounds that people will go there, and the building traffic will be noisy and dangerous, so we're doomed to endure the infrastructure we have and no more; ever. ;-(

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've only read the article title and the comments.

    AIUI, Skynet is going to be created by the Luna Republic. Awesome!

  12. Faye Berdache

    Recursive production

    The main limitation to using 3D printers will be the energry needed to power them (and anything they produce). Assuming that solar power would be the only available source the first thing a 3D printer would need to do is create more solar panels but to assemble and deploy them would require some kind of robot. It's almost a chicken and egg situation. Once you have that problem solved you can then go on to making bigger and more complex machines which in turn can be used to make bigger and more complex machines until you have got enough to build a habitable dome. This of course assumes you can make stuff without water or any other liquid that hasn't boiled off into space and that mining for the necessary minerals is just an easy dig into the topsoil.

    1. Lockwood

      Re: Recursive production

      Just punch the moon rock for a while.

    2. Dave 62

      Re: Recursive production

      Oi, there's water on the moon, last I heard anyway. Just need to make it hot, shoot a fission reactor up there, bit o' uranium in a rocket, job's a good'un.

  13. Dave 62

    I like how the article and comments make a big fuss of one forum comment, missing the major point.

    The man talks sense. I once read a novel called SABRE.. it had something to do with some sort of.. singe stage surface to space vehicle with these.. I don't know.. synergous air breathing something or others? I reckon the tech in that book was feasible.

    I think maybe KSR's Mars trilogy (all four(?) books) had some reasonable ideas too.

    There is a particularly taboo area of technology which I believe could benefit from some sort of passionately espoused manifesto, namely eugenics. Imagine if you will my friends, a world where nimbys have been removed from the gene pool.

  14. Stevie


    3D moon printers? Idiot! Assuming anyone would *want* to live in da-glo plastic igloos, where in the moon are we going to get the miles of weedwhacker wire needed for the old RepRap to feed on? I thought scientists were bad enough at the moon-shot thing, but these 3d printerloons take the space-biscuit.

    Thinktankers! Suggest sensible things!

  15. SoaG

    Interesting concept

    a point about stagnation

    worrisome he was brought to it by thinking a rail line spoiling a lake could somehow be a net positive.

    1. MajorTom

      Re: Interesting concept

      Writing from Seattle...

      Neal S wrote his essay after being witness to the longer history of light rail here. The Light Rail is itself the less-attractive option we'll all have to settle for, after the much more attractive monorail project got canceled. The monorail would have had a smaller footprint (being up on columns) than the light rail, and be built much faster, finally giving the Puget Sound area a decent mass-transit option. (Other than buses.) But monorail was eventually killed by local politicians over the objections of the public. (There had been numerous public votes where each time the city voters said "yes" to the monorail.) Light rail must have just meant more $$ hence it was kept while monorail shelved.

      Oh, and regarding spoiling a lake, it's already "spoiled" by two very large floating bridges with multiple spans, for two major highways, which have been in place for decades. We are in the process of building a whole new span for highway 520. Which would do its damage, regardless of the addition of light rail (which is supposed to reduce dependance on cars) or not.

      Stagnation...we got it.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about doing this to an asteroid?

    Seems like the ideal way to divert an ELE sized (1mile+) asteroid without resorting to nuclear warheads and drilling.

    Just send one or two replicator units to asteroid say 5 years out, have it dismantle said asteroid into buillding blocks and rebuild it into a mini Dyson Swarm or similar with thrusters to nudge it into high orbit round say the Moon.

    Et voila, one habitable extraterrestrial habitat complete with atmosphere, cloned plants and other "Fun Stuff" (tm) without having to colonise Mars.

    AC/DC 6EQUJ5 and if NASA rip this off good luck to them :-)

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