You Can Now 3D Print a Copy of the Moon

A student made 3D printable files of the entire lunar surface.

Feb 5 2016, 4:40pm

Image from the Moon data the site is based on. Image: USGS

If you can't print a home on the Moon, why not print the Moon at your home? First-year computer science student Thatcher Chamberlin has made a site that turns the lunar surface into 3D-printable STL files, so you can print out your own plasticky patch of crater-pocked Moon-land.

Chamberlin, who shared the files in Reddit's 3D printing community this week, explained in a phone call that his Moon2STL project followed on from his earlier work Terrain2STL, which does the same thing for the Earth. "Over January I had a lot of spare time, so I thought it'd be cool to do it for the Moon, because I found the data for that," he said.

His Moon-printing site uses data taken from a topographical model of the lunar surface by the US Geological Survey. Users can select the part of the Moon they want to print via Google Maps, and Chamberlin's site will process the elevation data of the area—which marks where features like craters are—into an STL file. From there, you can print.

"I don't actually have a 3D printer, so I'm not a hundred percent sure how that works, but I think it's a pretty standard process if you have a printer," said Chamberlin.

Screenshot of the Moon2STL site

Though 3D printer-less, he was initially inspired to build Terrain2STL because he wanted to make a model on his milling machine of a local harbour where he teaches kids to sail, but found that he had to download a huge amount of data to get what he needed. "I thought, if anyone else tried to replicate that it'd be a huge hassle because you'd have to download all that stuff," he said. "So I figured I'd make a little website out of it, and a lot of people actually do like that."

Chamberlin has had emails from people who have printed local landmarks or used it in geography projects in schools; he's less sure why people might want to print the Moon surface, but Reddit commenters seem keen. NASA has also previously made files available for 3D printing notable Moonscapes such as Apollo landing sites.

The 18-year-old said that, theoretically, it would be possible to print the lunar surface at lifesize scale. "The one thing is, the resolution is like 1800m [per pixel] so if you print it out lifesize you'd just be walking round on a lot of really big flat triangles for the most part," he said. "You can only really see the craters on the scale of tens of kilometers or something, so it might be kind of boring."