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NASA gets practical with 3D printing

NASA gets practical with 3D printing

Remember the film [insert any space drama here] with the damaged space ship and the astronaut who needs a specific tool to return to Earth? Sorry Hollywood, you need a new plot.

NASA is using the 3D printing technology to manufacture tools on the job, in space. While the technology is still in the testing phase, NASA hopes 3D printing will eventually provide supplies for long-term space exploration – think Mars, asteroids, space undiscovered.  

Following the 3D printer’s installation aboard the International Space Station late last year, the crew built 21 items, including a ratchet wrench, the first tool built in space. The 3D printer used on the space station created each item by layering heated plastic filaments on top of each other using design programs supplied to the machine.

The crew sent the tools down to Earth via the SpaceX Dragon so engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama could inspect their durability, strength and structure. The examination, which began April 6, will compare each tool against an identical set made with the same printer before it left Earth. Experimentation with the printer aboard the Space Station will continue over the course of the year.

But 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, isn’t meant for space alone and isn’t limited to plastic tools. The technology to print food and other necessities is also in the works for federal and commercial use. 

Posted by Suzette Lohmeyer on Apr 09, 2015 at 8:21 AM


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