Philosophy of the Prize
Things could be so much different than they are. As a species, we have arrived in our current state through a series of steps so complex that the thing we call reality might as well be an arbitrary selection from the possibilities of what could be.
In this reality, our reality, humans have made a massive misstep that has put our society and our species at risk. This glaring bit of poor judgment is ongoing, yet no action is being taken to resolve the situation.
No machines are being built outside of Earth’s orbit.
Even though we are a space faring species, we have no plans for gathering resources from outside of Earth or for building the extraterrestrial infrastructure that is necessary to take humans to other planets and beyond. We are not amassing the arsenal necessary to ward off extinction from asteroid impacts nor are we building the tools we need to fight runaway global warming through sunshades and the like.
We could be building things, lots of things, outside of Earth’s gravity and be permanently expanding our reach into the Cosmos. We can do all of this with existing technology – low tech by today’s standards – the only requirement is a slight shift of human priority.
We must encourage the tinkerers and the builders to venture into space. And not just be there and exist in space, but to play in it, interact with it. A compelling challenge like the one outlined above would bring adventurers, those wary of traditional ways of doing things who take bold steps into unknown territory. Let’s find the people in this world who want to dip their (virtual) hands into the Moon’s soil and pull out an object born from their imagination.
Following this competition, the winning team will have the ability to produce parts indefinitely on the surface of the Moon using soil and sunlight. These parts could be assembled to form the bodies of robots, most notably those of additional printers; containers for material storage; energy collection apparatuses; and a host of other applications, with each addition bringing even greater capabilities for extracting resources and building upon the lunar surface.
Proper preparation could greatly extend the reach of this first lunar base to encourage it to grow organically from resources collected on the Moon. The winning team could build a large collection of printers and robots by sending just a few extra electronics, motors, and Mylar sheets for solar collection. This hardware could be installed into the bodies of printers and robots, all made on the Moon. The added costs of launching a slightly heavier payload would be minimal compared to the potential returns that you could receive from increased operational capability on the Moon.
The creative limits of the winning team will be pushed to find new ways of harnessing the few resources they started with. The lunar soil contains a range of extremely useful materials such as aluminum, iron, titanium, and magnesium; all of which are easily extractable for use in specialized mechanical or electrical components. Small amounts of water can be liberated from the soil as it is melted. This water could be collected and used to drive steam engines as a feasible first step towards low-tech locomotion on the Moon. Simple heating elements could be produced from parabolic solar collectors improvised from Mylar sheets applied to the surface of troughs dug into the soil.
Continued support from Earth via rocket bound payloads could accelerate the efforts of the winning team or repeat their model elsewhere on the Moon. From one printer comes many. Each new printer will build redundancy into the system and expand the infrastructure required for extraterrestrial manufacturing and resource collection. With proper preparation, this process can continue indefinitely.