Aboard the International Space Station, astronauts have made a success of printing in 3D and relayed the proof back to Earth. They have proven that it is actually possible to print or create some things in space, And the project manager for the ISS 3D Printer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Niki Werkheiser, announces that “This first print is the initial step toward providing an on-demand machine shop capability away from Earth. The space station is the only laboratory where we can fully test this technology in space.”
Installed by Barry “Butch” Wilmore, the ISS commander of the Expedition 42, the microwave oven-sized was set up by applying instructions sent up from ground control. The 3D printer created its first component which is actually a faceplate for itself.
Werkheiser explained that “We chose this part to print first because, after all, if we are going to have 3D printers make spare and replacement parts for critical items in space, we have to be able to make spare parts for the printers. 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.”
Named “3D Printing In Zero-G Technology Demonstration” by NASA, Werkheiser says “This is the first time we’ve ever used a 3D printer in space, and we are learning, even from these initial operations. As we print more parts we’ll be able to learn whether some of the effects we are seeing are caused by micro-gravity or just part of the normal fine-tuning process for printing. When we get the parts back on Earth, we’ll be able to do a more detailed analysis to find out how they compare to parts printed on Earth.”
Researchers are eager to see how the quality of this space-printed product will compare to the one printed on Earth, given that the presence or absence of gravity in either place may play a factor in the process of printing and resultant quality. Humans have achieved the first feat of printing or creating a product in outer space, and it sets a mile in spatial activity that places humans in control of his universe.