Many children and amateur engineers — and even professional engineers — fantasize about designing things for NASA. Most people aren’t aware that NASA works with the public quite often! One of the most interesting ways to interact with NASA is through their Centennial Challenges, where they hold public contests to solve certain problems.mars-ice-house_dusk_02_high_res_0

The current Centennial challenge is all about 3D printed habitats. The goal here is to be able to “print” a habitat using local indigenous materials, or recycled materials. This allows you to only have to ship the machinery, and not raw material. That may not sound like it would make that big of a difference but in places that are particularly difficult or expensive to get to, like the moon, every bit of weight saved in shipping is valuable.

 

The contest is split into 3 phases:

Phase 1 ( completed in 2015)
Teams developed innovative habitat architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities that 3D printing offers.

 Phase 2 :
This is the Structural Member Competition, focusingon the material technologies needed to manufacture structural components from a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables, or indigenous materials alone. NASA may use these technologies to construct shelters for future human explorers to Mars. On Earth, these same capabilities could also be used to produce affordable housing wherever it is needed or where access to conventional building materials and skills is limited. Phase 2 has a prize purse of $1.1 million, and also serves as a qualifier for participation in Phase 3.
Phase 3:
The On-Site Habitat Competition (to be announced at a later date), will focus on the 3D-Printing fabrication of a scaled habitat design, using indigenous materials combined with or without recyclables, and will have a prize purse of $1.4 million.

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Phase 1 of this challenge is over, but registration for Phase 2 is currently open.NASA has partnered with Bradley University, in Peoria, Illinois, and sponsors Caterpillar, also in Peoria, Bechtel, and Brick & Mortar Ventures, both in San Francisco, for Phase 2 of the competition. With a total prize purse of 1.1 million dollars, you may want to seriously consider joining.