NASA 3D Printer Flying to ISS in 2014

Science, Technology

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Despite vast cuts to NASA's budget over the past several years, the space agency still seems to be able to push beyond the boundaries of reality and make science fiction science fact.

Just last week, the Mars Curiosity rover was able to find evidence of water on the Red Planet. Now, NASA has announced that it will send a 3D printer to the International Space Station in 2014.

The thought behind the project is to avert any potential disasters that could happen in space due to limited resources: "Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station. Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?" stated Aaron Kemmer, the chief-executive of Made in Space, the technology start-up that has been chosen to lead development for the project.

3D printing, more formally known as additive manufacturing, works by layering material (right now the most popular being forms of plastic polymers) on top of itself in different patterns, leading to the formation of 3D, solid objects.

Mike Chen, the co-founder of Made in Space, explained why being able to print objects in space is much more advantageous than making them here in Earth and then shipping them out of the atmosphere: "Everything that you launch is going to have to withstand up to 9Gs in the rocket and crazy vibrations. Things in space are vastly over-engineered, really, for the first 8 minutes of its existence. Think about what you can do now that you have 3D printing capabilities on orbit. For the first time, we'll be able to design things for space that don't ever have to exist in a gravity environment."

The biggest challenge facing the Made in Space currently, however, is exactly how to make a printer that will operate correctly in outer-space. The team needs to find solutions to such problems as not having enough power and containing fumes that are given off as a by-product of the 3D printing process.

If the team is successful, though, averting crises in space will be much easier. So far this year, astronauts in the ISS have had to repair a coolant leak, attempt repairs to a broken solar-panel, and abort a space-walk due to the astronaut's helmet filling with water. These issues would be much easier to handle if any tool or part the astronauts needed was able to be at their disposal in a matter of minutes, instead of waiting for Earth to send them the parts or improvising, like the 1970 Apollo 13 crew had to.

The team at Made in Space, despite current technological limitations, still has huge aspirations: "We're going to build a Death Star. Then it's all going to be over," stated Jason Dunne, chief technology officer.

If one had to choose between zombie apocalypse or death by Death Star as an end to the Earth, the decision would be nigh impossible. Please make this a reality, Made in Space. For all us nerds/geeks/fan-people. Please.

Image via YouTube