When something breaks in your house, what do you do? You could buy the tools and fix it yourself or even hire a handyman off of Amazon. Things aren't that simple in space, though. Astronauts at the International Space Station have to fix everything themselves. So, what do they do if they don't have the right tools. NASA emails it to them, of course.
You read that correctly. When Commander Barry Wilmore needed a wrench, NASA emailed it to a 3-D printer on board the station.
Mind you, this isn’t the first time a 3D printed object was made in space — a total of 21 total objects have been made aboard the ISS. But this was the first time an astronaut needed a specific tool the 3D printer hadn’t made before.
Now that astronauts can print off many of the tools they need, they no longer have to wait for shipments to come from Earth when an item is needed in a pinch. That can save a lot of time and money in the long the run.
A lot of work goes into letting astronauts 3-D print the tools they need. First, the company behind the technology - Made In Space - has to design a digital version of the tool. Then, it sends that file to NASA. Finally, the file is beamed up to the space station, where it begins printing.
In NASA's photo of Wilmore, the commander looks happy with the final result. But, we won't know how effective the tools really are until they are brought back to Earth for testing.
Commander Barry Wilmore aboard the International Space Station shows off the 3-D printed wrench.
"We will use them to characterize the effects of long-term microgravity on our 3D-printing process, so that we can model and predict the performance of objects that we manufacture in space in the future," Chen says.
Space isn't the only place where great things are happening in 3-D printing technology. Click here to read about the company that is 3-D printing memories for the blind.