NASA just managed to send a spanner or a wrench up into space using email. Well, that has been made possible largely due to a 3D printer aboard the International Space Station. The astronauts aboard it were sent instructions by NASA scientists on ground, following which they put their 3D printer to use and made a wrench out of it. This is the first time that hardware has been emailed to space.
Astronauts earlier had to wait for several months if they needed a specific item but as ISS commander Barry Wilmore asked for a ratcheting socket wrench this time, NASA made it possible faster than a rocket could have done it! Nasa says the capability will help astronauts be more self-reliant on future long duration space missions.
Mike Chen, founder of Made In Space, the company behind the 3-D printer, said: “We had overheard ISS Commander Barry Wilmore (who goes by “Butch”) mention over the radio that he needed one, so we designed one in CAD and sent it up to him faster than a rocket ever could have.”
Mike Chen added: “The socket wrench we just manufactured is the first object we designed on the ground and sent digitally to space, on the fly.
“It also marks the end of our first experiment—a sequence of 21 prints that together make up the first tools and objects ever manufactured off the surface of the Earth.”
The other 21 objects were designed before the 3D printer was shipped to the space station in September on a SpaceX Dragon supply flight.
The next major planned printing project for the Made in Space printer is not quite as ambitious. They will be working on a special buckle for a strap that will help keep astronauts muscles from atrophying in space next.
The success of the mission, which might have sounded like a scene out of Star Trek till a few years back, has made those aboard the Made In Space team jubilant. As are the astronauts who can now hope to get replacements for faulty parts within a few minutes in future!