So far, at least, nanotechnology has been mostly about making new kinds of substances—nanotubes, nanowires, nanodots—or improving existing materials, like by adding tiny “nanowhiskers” to khaki pants to keep coffee or salsa away from the underlying cotton. But the sort of nanotechnology that most captures the public’s imagination is a theoretical version consisting of tiny nanomachines or nanorobots with the ability to build substances or products from the bottom up by pushing atoms and molecules together one at a time.

There’s been lots of debate about whether such nanomachines, particularly ones that can duplicate themselves over and over again, will ever exist outside the imagination of sci-fi writers. But a new report from NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts, conducted by General Dynamics, suggests that self-replicating nanomachines are possible. The study concludes that “using solar power and in situ resources, a self-replicating lunar factory could build solar cells and other manufactured tools with which to explore and develop the moon.” Of course, nanomachines of a sort already exist. They are called cells.

Report here.