3D Printing in Space on the Horizon
As our space exploration projects continue to move forward, there are some details to work out if we ever want to take the long non-road trip to Mars. One of the most interesting problems facing astronauts is finding spare parts to fix things on the International Space Station. Well, it appears that 3D printing may provide the solution to that issue.
Over on Universe Today, (one of the top 100 science blogs) it is noted that the 3D printer has passes a key test on the way to the International Space Station — microgravity. The 3D printer (being developed by Made in Space) has to operate in zero gravity. The hope is that the 3D printer can create somewhere around 30% of the spare parts needed on the ISS, perhaps alleviating certain plumbing issues as well.
This kind of operational technology is needed if we ever hope to send folks to Mars. While many have already applied for a one-way ticket, they are basically just signing up to be put in a space coffin if there is no way to fix in-flight problems. Basically, the perfect situation for space travelers is to be independent of Earth. That means having the ability to fix problems without waiting months for spare parts.
"The 3-D printer we’re developing for the ISS is all about enabling astronauts today to be less dependent on Earth," stated Noah Paul-Gin, the lead for the microgravity experiment. "The version that will arrive on the ISS next year has the capability of building an estimated 30% of the spare parts on the station, as well as various objects such as specialty tools and experiment upgrades."
The best news coming out of all this however, is that of the mention of a food replicator. While not exactly Star Trek just yet — we're getting damn close. 3D printing in space is the first step. A visit from the Vulcans is the last.