We do it on the daily down here on Earth, but this May, a 3D printer will go (and print!) where no 3D printer has been before it… space. A printer will be part of the equipment accompanying Expedition 40/41 on their journey to the International Space Station and at least one astronaut is ready to get MakerBot-ing at zero g’s.
NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman talked about what 3D printing in space can do for moon missions at a recent news conference: “Imagine if you’re going to Mars and instead of packing along 20,000 spare parts, you pack along a few kilograms of ink. Now, you don’t even need to know what part is going to break, you can just print out that part. Let’s say your screwdriver strips out halfway to Mars and you need a screwdriver, print out a screwdriver. Really, I think for the future, that’s pretty fascinating. I really like that and it’ll be fun to play with that on orbit.”
Definitely fun (yay for astronauts on Twitter) and possibly crucial for printing out life- or mission-saving parts in the case of an emergency. The 3D printer launching into space in May 2014 is Made in Space’s prototype 3D printer, 3D Printing in Zero G Experiment. Or, 3D Print for short. Similar to many earthly models, it uses a process called extrusion additive manufacturing to layer polymers and other materials to create different objects.
3D Print might be the first printer strapping on its little astronaut’s helmet to head up into space, but taking this tech beyond the stratosphere is only just beginning. A NASA-funded project wants to make 3D printing food in space a reality, too. The goal is for a space-ready Foodini to travel with astronauts on long-duration manned missions to far-off locations like Mars. These trips usually take several years and require packing thousands of meals for the crew to nibble on. With 3D printing, they could make easy, nutritional meals on-demand. Also good news for those of us who plan on renting out our moon condos in the next 50 to 100 years. Wait — “How will we build on the moon!?” you ask. By 3D printing them, natch.
Where do you think 3D printing will take us next? Have you been following the technology? Share below!