NASA’s ultimate goal is getting to Mars. But, what happens once we get there? Astronauts will eventually need shelter on Mars to conduct long-term exploration. Last week, NASA announced a new challenge that aims to harness the power of 3D printing.

The 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge is designed to “advance the additive construction technology needed to create sustainable housing solutions for Earth and beyond.”

One of the biggest challenges for any Mars mission is what to take. Cargo space is extremely valuable. 3D printing can solve this by creating the shelter once the astronauts arrive at Mars, or any other deep-space exploration mission.

The 3-D printed habitat challenge will run in multiple phases. The first phase lasts until September 27. Participants will be tasked with creating concepts that utilize the unique capabilities of 3D printing. The top 30 submissions will be judged, and a $50,000 prize will be awarded at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York.

The second phase is where participants will distinguish themselves.

Here’s more from the NASA press release:

The Structural Member Competition (Level 1) focuses on the fabrication technologies needed to manufacture structural components from a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables, or indigenous materials alone. The On-Site Habitat Competition (Level 2) challenges competitors to fabricate full-scale habitats using indigenous materials or indigenous materials combined with recyclables. Both levels open for registration Sept. 26, and each carries a $1.1 million prize.

While NASA’s eye is on deep-space exploration, any capabilities learned will extend to Earth. These techniques could eventually be used to build affordable houses on Earth.

Don't Worry About Asteroid Bennu

“We believe that 3D printing/Additive Manufacturing has the power to fundamentally change the way people approach design and construction for habitats, both on earth and off, and we are excitedly awaiting submissions from all types of competitors,” said Ralph Resnick, founding director of America Makes.

America Makes is teaming up with NASA to hold the $2.25 million challenge.

3D Printing is still young, but its potential is endless

3D printing is exploding. Here are a couple of the advancements made this month.

GE 3D printed a working jet engine

The jet engine stands eight inches tall and is about a foot long. It won’t power a 747, but the tiny engine did hit 33,000 RPM in tests.

We are still a ways off from full-scale 3D printed engines, but GE will start including one 3D printed part in GE90-94B jet engines. In April, the small piece below was cleared by the FAA.

GE 3D printed part

The 3D printed piece “houses the compressor inlet temperature sensor inside a jet engine,” according to GE.

L’Oreal is 3D printing human skin to test cosmetics

L’Oreal entered into a partnership with Organovo Holdings (a 3D bioprinting company) earlier this month. The pair will work together to engineer 3D printed skin tissue for use in product testing and other areas.

“Organovo has broken new ground with 3-D bioprinting, an area that complements L’Oreal’s pioneering work in the research and application of reconstructed skin for the past 30 years. Our partnership will not only bring about new advanced in vitro methods for evaluating product safety and performance, but the potential for where this new field of technology and research can take us is boundless,” said Guive Balooch, Global VP of L’Oreal’s Technology Incubator.

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