Thanks to 3D technology, with a click of the mouse, NASA was able to send astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) a ratcheting socket wrench (or spanner), which was replicated with 3D technology, bridging the time gap of hardware shipping by 6 months at least.
The ISS commander Barry Wilmore needed a wrench. The California-based company Made In Space that designed the 3D printer aboard the ISS decided to create instructions for them on Earth and emailed it to them.
Previously, if an astronaut needed a specific tool it would have to be flown up on the next mission to the ISS which could take months, media reports said.
This was the first time a hardware was developed using the 3D printer already with the ISS astronauts using instructions sent in the email.
Earlier, the 3D printer at the ISS created the first printed object in space – a part of the printer itself – paving the way for future long-term space expeditions.
NASA controllers from Earth sent the command to the printer to make the first printed part: a faceplate of the casing.
This demonstrated that the printer can make replacement parts for itself.
The 3D printer uses a process formally known as additive manufacturing to heat a relatively low-temperature plastic filament and extrude it one layer at a time to build the part defined in the design file sent to the machine.
The “3D Printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration” on the space station aims to show additive manufacturing can make a variety of 3D printed parts and tools in space.
The first objects built in space will be returned to Earth in 2015 for detailed analysis and comparison to identical ground control samples.
The goal of this analysis is to verify that the 3D printing process works the same in microgravity as it does on Earth, NASA said in a statement.