WSU professors create moon rocks for future trips to the moon

 WSU professors create moon rocks for future trips to the moon »Play Video
Moon rock simulant from NASA.
PULLMAN, WA - A couple of professors at Washington State University have been working on a special project for NASA.

"We received some of this moon rock stimulant material from NASA and what we did is we basically used it in a 3D printing machine," said WSU Mechanical and Materials Engineering Professor Susmita Bose.

Susmita Bose and her husband, Amit Bandyopadhyay are professors at Washington State University. They've been printing three-D objects, using materials like metal and ceramics since 1998, and recently, they added moon rock into the mix.

"So we wanted to see, can we really melt this type of material using laser?" said Bose.

"We have a heat source that's a laser," said Bandyopadhyay. "So we feed the powder with the laser, and when the laser hits the powder, the powder is you know liquid, molten."

Once the material is melted, it turns into a three-D ink, and the printer can use it to build objects layer by layer.

"We write one later, then write the next layer, then the next layer on top," said Bandyopadhyay. "So the parts we made, up to a hundred plus layers."

So far, they've only created basic shapes, and used it to repair broken tools.

"It is a very first generation work," said Bandyopadhyay.

But now that we know it can be done, it could be used in future trips to the moon to build or repair parts in space. Of course, there's a couple issues that will need to be worked out before that's possible.

"We have to keep in mind that when we are building something on Earth, we have gravity, which is playing a big role," said Bose.

Also, carrying a machine of this size to the moon is no easy task. But the groundwork for three-D printing in space has been laid by a couple of professors, right here at WSU.

"Two brains together is always better than one brain," said Bose.

The moon rock simulant that the researchers received from NASA is made of silicon, aluminum, calcium, iron and magnesium oxides.