Payload Pioneers 2023: Thao Nguyen

What will homes and buildings look like in space?

Thanks to Thao Nguyen, a principal mission engineer at 3D printing firm ICON, we may be closer to finding out. 

Nguyen’s work created a breakthrough that could allow people to essentially build the Moon version of mud huts. She played a big part in turning lunar regolith—rocks and glass collected on the Moon’s surface—into easy-to-use building material. 

The lunar regolith meets NASA’s standards for In-Situ Resource Utilization, so instead of bringing wood, bricks and concrete from Earth to the Moon, companies will be able to build their facilities using the soil from the lunar surface. 

Building blocks: NASA has long been on the lookout for ISRU materials, which reduces a mission’s cost, capacity, and logistics. ICON received a $57M contract based on the work done by Nguyen and her team. 

“I am a huge advocate for how space resources improve our lives on Earth in terms of new material advances, fundamental science research that is aided by low gravity or ultra high vacuum conditions, and many other ways,” Nguyen said. 

A bit of history: Nguyen began her career in space working on the James Webb Telescope seven years ago, when it was in its integration and test phase. Since then, she has delved into the world of lunar construction, bringing together civil and mechanical engineers, architects and geologists together to visualize and build out a world on the Moon. 

“Her work will dramatically advance the ability of humanity to thrive on the moon and truly utilize the resources found there,” Eamon Carrig, director of off-planet systems at ICON, said in her nomination.

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