NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station have created the first-ever object to be 3D printed in space. The 3D printer, which was developed by Made in Space, was delivered to the ISS by a SpaceX mission back in September, and on November 17 Expedition Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore installed and calibrated the device. On November 24 it produced its first component: a faceplate for the printer itself that reads “Made in Space.”
It is admittedly somewhat of a symbolic component, but the plate paves the way for significant advances in the way we conduct space exploration. At present, all tools used by astronauts are fabricated on earth and then brought by, or delivered to the ISS. If the products of Made in Space’s 3D printers do indeed match the integrity of tools fabricated here on earth, then space missions could become radically more independent.
Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made In Space, goes one step further, explaining in a press release that “we look at the operation of the 3-D printer as a transformative moment, not just for space development, but for the capability of our species to live away from Earth.” For now NASA’s goals are somewhat more modest: the faceplate will be sent back to Earth for a detailed analysis of how it compares to parts printed on Earth.
From there, NASA project manager Niki Werkheiser explains, “If a printer is critical for explorers, it must be capable of replicating its own parts, so that it can keep working during longer journeys to places like Mars or an asteroid. Ultimately, one day, a printer may even be able to print another printer.”
Photos courtesy NASA/Made in Space