Lunar dome concepts: 3D print buildings using “moon stuff” and more

The other design I needed to research for The Alien Element is what a realistic lunar dome might look like and be made out of.

You know the Jetson’s style glass dome, straight out of the sci-fi imagination of 1950s America? That’s where I started when I first began to imagine what a lunar dome might look like, and how it all might work.

But technology has improve immensely since the 1950s, and glass domes are not realistic on a moon with no atmosphere and a danger of meteorites, either to live in or maintain. The old vision had become dated. So I went in search of more modern lunar dome concepts.

The newest and most realistic concept I found on Gizmodo. They propose running “moon stuff” (the soil/crust of the moon) through a 3D printer to turn it into a cement-like material. Using that stuff, they’d arrange or print it in a cellular structure, insert inflatables into the interior to hold atmosphere, and connect the domes with tunnels like an ant colony. Pictured here is a render:

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There are other benefits, too.

According to ESA’s human spaceflight team’s Scott Hovland: “3D printing offers a potential means of facilitating lunar settlement with reduced logistics from Earth.”

This means that we don’t need to carry building supplies up there. If we use what the moon provides, we same save on hassle and fuel.

Additional ideas and questions came from Quora user Robert Walker, who wrote more about the specifics and logistics of establishing such a base on the Moon or Mars. He suggests putting the colony in a large caldera or smaller crater, using the natural structure for stability, and raising a dome above it. He wrote an even longer piece here. I haven’t read all of it yet, but it’s very interesting and asks all sorts of questions I never even thought about.

That’s one of the joys of doing this kind of research—I’m introduced to so many new ideas.

And then there’s this idea of setting up a colony on the moon, beneath the moon’s surface inside of a lava cave, which scientists have posited could be quite large on the moon. So-called “lava caves” were apparently made during the cooling period while the moon’s surface was forming after the impact with Earth that created it.

Unlike Earth, the Moon lacks a thick atmosphere and magnetic field to protect it against cosmic radiation. The absence of an atmospheric buffer also means that the Moon’s surface receives more frequent meteorite impacts and more extremes of temperature.

For example, the Moon’s surface temperature can vary by several hundred degrees C during the course of a lunar day.

Cave opening
(Image copyright: NASA) Cave entrances like this one in Mare Tranquilitatis may open into lava tubes

But housing bases underground, inside lava tubes, could offer shielding against these risks.

The lunar tunnels are expected to be larger than those already discovered on our planet, because of the Moon’s lower gravity. No-one has yet definitively discovered an example on the Moon, but spacecraft have revealed cave entrances called skylights that may open into lava tubes.

Skylights! Holy crap, that’s amazing. There are so many great story seeds in these articles.

Clearly, the Jetson-style 1950s vision of the future didn’t hold up over time. Especially not glass domes, and definitely not on the moon where there’s no atmosphere.

Those finnicky laws of nature, they’re just so rigid.

I went for something along the lines of the 3D printed option in The Alien Element. It was a fun challenge that added great ambience to the story.


The Alien ElementThe Alien Element

A fast-paced science fiction thriller with an edge of the fantastic. A treacherous quest for answers that becomes a harrowing battle against an ancient adversary beyond imagining.

Book two of the Translocator Trilogy.

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