While NASA is primarily known as the United States civilian government agency that launches spacecraft, explores space and conducts research aboard the International Space Station, they actually wear quite a few different hats. As part of their role in exploring the galaxy, NASA collects a tremendous amount of data that is often used to further scientific understanding and to help educate the general public and children about space. Over the years they have collected thousands of 3D models of everything from their own spacecraft, to asteroids, to nebulae and even topographical maps of other planets. They even have detailed 3D models of their space suits and many of the tools used by astronauts while in space.
A few years ago NASA assembled a huge repository of that 3D data and released it to the public, initially including about 20 3D printable models. The first release of 3D printable models may have been modest, but it was certainly a place to start. NASA admitted that most of the STL files that they released would need to be edited a bit in order to be 3D printable on a desktop printer, but what a difference two years makes. As their current collection of 3D Printable Models has grown to over 80, many of them have actually been optimized to be easily 3D printable. And a few of the more complicated 3D printable models actually have downloadable PDF printing and assembly instructions.
What makes this collection of models so great is that NASA has started to not only turn 3D models into STL files, but they’ve actually started to optimize them for 3D printing. The 3D printable file for the Curiosity Rover is a great example. Not only has the 3D model been broken up into several easy to 3D print parts, they also made the parts easy to assemble — many of them just snap together. NASA also designed the parts specifically with 3D printing in mind as with the main body of the rover that actually has a checker pattern on the bottom so it will be easier to remove from the bed without being difficult to adhere to the bed during printing.
The Curiosity Rover is also available as two different 3D printable model kits. NASA has created a larger, more detailed version of Curiosity that includes most of the fine details from the original rover as well as a smaller more simplified version that is easier to 3D print and assemble. The larger Curiosity is made up of dozens of tiny parts that either snap together or need to be glued in place, while the smaller version can easily be snapped together. Both of the model kits include either individual STL files or files that have multiple parts pre-grouped for optimal 3D printing. NASA has even designed the 3D models with several support structures to help them 3D print correctly.
Among the dozens of great 3D printable models are the Viking Lander, which was the first spacecraft to land safely on the surface of Mars, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Orion Space Capsule which is expected to launch with the new NASA heavy lift rocket. The repository also includes 3D printable models of most of the Apollo space mission landing sites, the Curiosity landing site, several 3D models of famous hurricanes and the asteroid Eros. There are also fantastically detailed and easy to print kits for the Hubble Space Telescope and the BWG Deep Space Station Antenna.
The entire 3D collection is just a treasure trove of educational materials that are ready to be used in classrooms for all ages, not to mention NASA or spacecraft fans with access to 3D printers. Unfortunately there are still a few 3D models that will need some extra work to make 3D printable, including the Juno Space Probe which is currently making its way around Jupiter. But despite some of the files needing some work, it seems like NASA is working hard to put up more 3D Printable Files regularly. And they still have more than 200 other 3D Models available for download that can be converted into 3D printable files or used in animation projects. They also have more 3D models, textures and images available for download from their GitHub account. Discuss further in the NASA 3D Printables forum over at 3DPB.com.