Elon Musk told people last year that — once we get the whole “space travel to other planets” thing all sorted out, they should sell their homes and move to Mars. Turns out, the homes you might be moving into when you’re settling down on Mars might be 3D printed.

The University of Central Florida and NASA are working on a strategy to extract metals from Martian soil so that humans can start building structures as soon as they arrive on the red planet. The metals would be extracted via a process called “molten regolith electrolysis,” which subjects the soil to heat nearing 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit — so hot that the metallic elements will separate from the soil. Those metals would be fed into a 3D printer to create metal blocks and tools used for constructing future shelters. This will allow the first Martian colonists to be self-sustaining, instead of lugging thousands of pounds of building materials from Earth aboard what are bound to be space-constrained ships.

story continues below

There isn’t a clear timeline for this technology to be completed but it will have to be sometime before NASA sends humans to Mars, which is expected to be sometime in the 2030s.

When it comes to how future generations will settle Mars, 3D printed homes seem to be the most viable solution. SpaceX, led by CEO Elon Musk, has pitched its proposed Interplanetary Transport System as a way to send one million humans to Mars before the century is out, but the company has yet to come up with a way to ensure all those people have places to live. NASA may be onto something key with this project here.

And of course, the main goal after landing will be survival. Aside from printing building materials, humans still have to figure out the most basic human necessities like cultivating food and sustaining their health. And by those measures, there’s a lot of work to be done.