How Mars will be colonized using 3D printers

Think 3D printing is just for creating action figures or reproducing machine parts? 3D printing can have applications that are out of this world. Literally. In September, NASA named the three finalists of its 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge Design Competition. The teams were awarded a total of $40,000, and the world got a first-hand look at what life on Mars would really be like. According to NASA, the competition "challenged participants to develop architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities 3-D printing offers to imagine what habitats on Mars might look like using this technology and in-situ resources."

The first-place award of $25,000 went to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office for their design, Mars Ice House. Second place and $15,000 was awarded to Team Gamma. Third place was awarded to Team LavaHive.

Click here to view the top 30 submissions

Scott J Grunewald sat down with Keegan Kirkpatrick from RedWorks, one of the thirty semi-finalists, to discuss their habitat submission, which was largely based on nautilus shells and pueblos. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

"SJG: Can you tell me a little bit about how the idea for the habitat came together? Where did you draw inspiration, and how did the process evolve?

KK: It was a very organic process. I initially wanted something as basic as a Pit-House, which was employed by virtually every society that was just starting to transition to fixed living spaces, but most recognizably by the Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest. My teammate, and 3D printing guru Lino Stavole, came up with the idea of including a nautiloid spiral pattern in the habitat’s construction. Initially to provide better internal support, but it quickly became clear to me that a spiral exterior would be a great way to make use of any excavation sites as a kind of continuous spiral foundation. Basically you could distribute the load of the habitat over a larger area and give your 3D printing system a scaffolding to print off of after excavating your printing material. After that the design just kinda evolved with incremental changes, though the biggest change to the final design was the spiral staircase pattern for the habitat’s floorspace. Those pie shaped floors and spiral pattern maximized floor space and let us design each floor for a specific task. I like to think my dad might have influenced that decision, at least subconsciously, as he builds staircases for a living."

To read the full interview, visit “To Mars and Beyond: How RedWorks is Going to Help NASA Colonize Space” from