The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration may be one step closer to having Star Trek-like replicators after astronauts on the International Space Station used an on-board 3-D printer to manufacture a wrench after NASA e-mailed the blueprints.
The endeavour, which took place on the weekend, marks the first time hardware designs were e-mailed into space. This could revolutionize the way large machinery is transported and developed in space.
Up to that point, the wait time for needed machinery would be months because they would need to piggyback onto scheduled supply flights to the ISS. Perfection of this process will massively shorten that time.
Californian tech firm Made in Space developed the Zero-Gravity 3-D Printer, which was installed on the ISS on Nov. 17. ISS astronaut Barry Wilmore requested a design for the racketing socket wrench, the firm then beamed up the designs via e-mail and astronauts printed them.
The ability to develop and even request designs for simple equipment will have great implications for building self-reliance for longer space missions.
This isn't the first time something was 3-D-printed on the space station. On Nov. 25, astronauts on board used the 3-D printer to manufacture its first object – a replacement part for the printer.
According to Made in Space's website, the goal of the partnership with NASA is to one day avoid having to burn fuel to transport large objects and equipment from Earth and simply have them built in space.