While it’s not the first 3D printed object made in space, it is the first item made to do work in space in the hands of an astronaut.
When International Space Station Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore needed a wrench, NASA was way ahead of the game; they e-mailed him a new one. It was the first time an object designed on Earth was transmitted to space for manufacture off the planet.
NASA astronaut Wilmore, commander on the International Space Station, installed the first 3D printer on the space station on November 17 and was also in charge of conducting the first calibration test print.
On November 24, ground control sent the printer a command to make a faceplate of the extruder’s casing, and that served as a demonstration that the printer was capable of making replacement parts for itself.
“This is the first time we’ve ever used a 3D printer in space, and we are learning, even from these initial operations,” says the project manager for the International Space Station 3D Printer, Niki Werkheiser. “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.”
But the transmission and printing of the wrench was a real Space Odyssey moment.
The 3D printer, located in the Columbus laboratory module’s Microgravity Science Glovebox, printed out the ratcheting socket wrench and the commander removed it as a ready-to-use, straight-from-Earth tool.
NASA officials say that, in the event humanity might one day set up a colony on Mars or the moon, broken or necessary tools can be produced on an as-needed basis.
So now you, Space Cowboy, can print your own version of the space wrench. And it comes courtesy of a relatively svelte .73 MB download direct from NASA.
What do you think are the possibilities for manufacturing items off the planet Earth using 3D printing? Can you image other techniques and materials NASA might one day use to build items in space? Weigh in on with your opinion in the Wrench of the Gods forum thread on 3DPB.com.
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