Now They Do! – First 3D Printer In Space
Imagine you’re on a NASA mission to Mars on the most expensive spaceships ever constructed. Everything is going as planned: Your fellow astronauts are floating around you, LCD
screens are all over the place with data running on their screens, someone is spinning around a radio for some reason and nothing is wrong until suddenly an alarm goes off. Your holyshitodometer malfunctioned and you can’t continue the mission without it. You’re 5 months into a 9 month mission and now you have to scrap it and head home. Or do you?
The crew of the International Space Station (ISS) has manufactured its first 3D object in space that could lead to long-term travel. This could prevent such a catastrophic mission failure due to a need for replacement parts.
Barry “Butch” Wilson, current commander of the expedition, installed the 3D printer on November 17th and conducted its first test of the hardware. By November 24th, the printer was ready for service.
“As we print more parts we’ll be able to learn whether some of the effects we are seeing are caused by microgravity or just part of the normal fine-tuning process for printing. When we get the parts back on Earth, we’ll be able to do a more detailed analysis to find out how they compare to parts printed on Earth.” says Niki Werkheiser, project manager for the International Space Station 3-D Printer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre.
The first thing they printed up in space was a print tray. It sounds boring, but to perfect the technology, you have to think logically: Make sure you can print replacement parts for the printer that can print itself.
“We chose this part to print first because, after all, if we are going to have 3D printers make spare and replacement parts for critical items in space, we have to be able to make spare parts for the printers,” Werkheiser explains. “If a printer is critical for explorers, it must be capable of replicating its own parts, so that it can keep working during longer journeys to places like Mars or an asteroid. Ultimately, one day, a printer may even be able to print another printer.”
First 3D printing in space, next is replicating “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” Get on that, NASA.
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Jeff Sorensen is an author, writer and occasional comedian living in Detroit, Michigan. You can look for more of his work on The Huffington Post, UPROXX, BGR and by just looking up his name.