— Chris Schodt (@ChrisSchodt) December 18, 2014
In one small step for man, and one giant leap for bada$$ technology, NASA has, for the first time, “emailed” a piece of hardware into space.
The item? A socket wrench.
Astronaut Barry Wilmore requested from NASA the simple tool, which typically would take months to reach him in one of their regular supply flights rocketed to the International Space Station.
Overhearing Wilmore’s request, Mike Chen, the founder of Made in Space, the company behind the 3-D printer on the ISS, said,” [We heard] Wilmore mention over the radio that he needed one, so we designed one in CAD and sent it up to him faster than a rocket ever could have.”
The opportunities with this technology in space are endless. The printer, which was only installed on the ISS on November 17th, has already completed its first mission of sending over 21 prints to the ISS.
Chen adds, “The socket wrench we just manufactured is the first object we designed on the ground and sent digitally to space, on the fly. It also marks the end of our first experiment—a sequence of 21 prints that together make up the first tools and objects ever manufactured off the surface of the Earth.”
But all of this is just the beginning for 3-D printing in space. BBC Science Editor David Shukman summed up several possibilities for how the technology could be used in the future:
The ambition is for NASA or other space agencies or companies to routinely send their printing orders up to the International Space Station and for a range of objects to be produced. This would open the way to create hardware not only for the ISS itself but also for equipment to be deployed beyond it, conceivably such as satellites.
What’s even more exciting is that these companies are testing different raw materials for their printers, including substances similar to that of lunar soil. “So in theory, a 3D printer despatched to the Moon might be able to dig into the lunar surface, scoop up what is called the regolith, and transform it into the elements needed for a moon base,” adds Shukman.
Immediately our minds go to images like Total Recall – just imagine a massive machine that uses Moon rocks to create a massive Moon colony!
Too much SyFy channel? Ok.
Regardless, this technology is incredibly useful and its limits seem boundless. 3-D printing has gotten a bad rap in light of all the weapons technology initially featured in its repertoire, but 3-D printing companies are doing a good job at redirecting our focus onto all the incredibly positive feats the technology is capable of.
Next time you can’t find your hammer, NASA will just help you print one! Click here…