Aug 15, 2016 | By Alec

Has the second age of space exploration truly begun? It certainly seems so, as NASA is doubling down on its plans to put a man on Mars. But its European counterpart, the European Space Agency (ESA), is looking at a different target: a moon colony. This is also far more than a fanciful dream, as ESA has already commissioned Spanish artist Jorge Mañes Rubio – their first artist in residence – to think about the hard questions on life, identity and death. He even believes that in this colony, a temple 3D printed from regolith could become a burial crypt and icon of this new civilization.

Of course the more technological-minded readers among you might wonder what’s the point of this all. Indeed, many people must’ve raised eyebrows when ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) posted a vacancy for an artist-in-residence (deadline on 6 June) who would work with ESA developers on building designs and culture. Surely sustaining life is more important than shaping free time and sensibilities

But as head of the ACT Leopold Summerer explains, artists like Rubio can bring key concepts to the table without having decades’ worth of engineering experience or a truly practical mind. “We are happy to host Jorge in the team since he brings in different perspectives”, Summerer explained. “It also allows us to benefit from creative and innovative processes in the arts by exploring parallels and differences to the scientific creative process, which is at the heart of the ACT.” And of course practical dimensions have been key to this project ever since director general of the ESA Johann-Dietrich Wörner announced his vision of a village on the Moon.

But the truth is that a permanent colony creates challenges that are different from those faced aboard the ISS, for instance. “When somebody dies on the moon—because eventually it will happen—what kind of burial will they receive?” Rubio wonders. “What kind of sculpture or object are you going to make to remember them? And when somebody’s born for the first time outside of Earth, what kind of culture are you going to transmit to this person?” These are questions that need to be answered too.

That is largely the field Rubio will be working on as artist in residence. The ACT, whose team he will join, is a highly multidisciplinary research group focused on disruptive changes in space technology through ‘non-mainstream’ sciences. “I strongly believe that by reimagining our surroundings, we can build alternative worlds, and in this utopian process we will manage to see beyond our own limitations, we’ll manage to articulate new social scenarios. When we stop discerning the boundaries between what’s possible and what’s not, that’s when the real journey begins,” the artist says of his mission. “My work at ESA won’t be about adding a visual element to scientific data or research, but it will rather be about reflecting on a new era of colonization and exploitation of celestial bodies, and its multiple implications and consequences.”

Though having only just been appointed, his first project is already in the works: the Peak of Eternal Light. For every society has its aesthetics, artefacts and rituals, and every anthropological and spiritual tradition is faced with life and death. Even if no mainstream religion truly takes hold on the Moon, colonists will still die and give birth to their children. The lunar temple will, in short, become a key symbol for that human struggle. “It’s a chance to represent, if not religion, then maybe a primitive spiritual connection,” Rubio explains.

Of course the design will be thoroughly futuristic, but also steeped in history. The artist is already finding inspiration in iconic landmarks such as the Pantheon, Mayan temples, and the Egyptian pyramids – but also in utopian architecture concepts from the 18th century. “[Those] projects were simply impossible to build,” Rubio says. “They were too massive, too complex, too heavy. But on the moon, with one-sixth of Earth’s gravity, I can think big and propose structures that would never be able to be built on our planet.”

But Rubio is also thinking about construction realities. To avoid the huge costs involved with hauling building materials through space, his temple design relies on 3D printable lunar regolith – the fine soil found on the Moon’s surface. As just a few of these samples exist here on earth, scientists have already developed more than thirty different regolith simulants that can be used for testing. Rubio will specifically be working with a brand-new synthetic lunar dirt called DNA-1, which is far cheaper to produce that the material NASA has been working with.

To test the material’s potential, Rubio will be 3D printing different portions of the temple here on earth. Some of these will incorporate other existing materials, to create a cross between a building and cave. Could this become the cultural icon of the lunar colony?

At the same time, Rubio is already thinking about a wide range of other rituals for lunar residents – from burial masks to currency. “How are we going to trade?” Rubio muses. “I’m not necessarily thinking of banknotes, but of the seashells that Mesopotamia used. I’m continually referencing facts that are related to early civilizations because I think it’s a really good chance to revisit the past while also looking into the future. How do we move the infinite information from our planet onto the moon, instead of it just being a bunch of rich white people out there?”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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