Recently, the commander of the International Space Station, Barry “Butch” Wilmore, was in need of a specific wrench that wasn’t available aboard the ISS. But instead of sending it up on the next cargo ship, NASA simply emailed him 3-D blueprints for the wrench so that he could print the tool himself.
The 3-D printing company Made in Space designed the 3-D printer currently on the ISS. Engineers from the company overheard Wilmore mentioning the need for a ratcheting socket wrench on the radio, so they decided to create the blueprints for the needed tool and email them directly to Captain Wilmore.
This the first time that an object has been printed in space from emailed blueprints, and it is also marks a huge breakthrough in efficiency and transportation costs. The ISS’s 3-D printer uses recyclable materials, so when a tool is no longer needed, it can be broken down and used to make new tools or other objects.
So far over 20 objects have been printed in space by astronauts, but this is the first time a tool was designed for a specific purpose during a mission (the designs for the other object were pre-programmed).
According to Mike Chen from Made in Space…
“On the ISS this type of technology translates to lower costs for experiments, faster design iteration, and a safer, better experience for the crew members, who can use it to replace broken parts or create new tools on demand.”
Read the full story from Wired.