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From the moment he assumed the role of director general at the European Space Agency (ESA) last summer, it was clear Johann-Dietrich Woerner had a vision. He wanted to build a village on the moon.
Architecture firms such as London’s Foster + Partners jumped at the challenge, designing futuristic “lunar habitations” that look as though they’ve been plucked straight from a sci-fi film. Now, as the physical framework of this proposed civilization begins to take shape, Spanish artist Jorge Mañes Rubio is taking a decidedly different approach. “When somebody dies on the moon—because eventually it will happen—what kind of burial will they receive?” he asks. “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?”
As ESA’s first artist in residence, Rubio is currently utilizing the agency’s resources to examine the potential social and anthropological aspects of colonizing celestial bodies. Embedded with the Advanced Concepts Team—a small, multidisciplinary group of scientists and researchers considering ideas and technologies that are decades in the making—the Amsterdam-based artist has concentrated his energies thus far on a proposal for a lunar temple.
The project, titled Peak of Eternal Light, will incorporate cutting-edge building technologies developed specifically for interplanetary travel. To avoid the prohibitive cost of hauling building materials through space, scientists have developed a method of 3D printing that uses lunar regolith, the fine soil found on the moon. Complicating this process, however, is the fact that samples of lunar soil on Earth are few and far between.
In order to gather enough of the material to conduct meaningful experiments, researchers across the globe have created more than 30 lunar regolith simulants as stand-ins. Rubio, in particular, will be using a recently developed synthetic lunar dirt called DNA-1, which can be manufactured at a fraction of the cost of NASA’s version. The artist plans to 3D print portions of the temple; other sections will incorporate an existing boulder, creating a cross between a building and a cave. […]