3D printer works in orbit and makes long-term space travel possible (VIDEO)

3D printer works in orbit and makes long-term space travel possible (VIDEO)Space travel is unpredictable. So much can go wrong, and it's impossible to plan for and respond quickly to all of it. As a result, we're limited in how far we can go, and for how long. But that's changing. Right now, orbiting 250 miles above Earth on the International Space Station, sits a tool that could revolutionize human space travel: a 3D printer.

Andrew Rush, CEO of Made in Space, the company behind the printer, says his team members are "just a bunch of guys who want to see people live and work in space in a sustainable, ongoing way." To help make that happen, they teamed up with hardware store Lowe's to design the device, which arrived at the ISS earlier this year.

If an astronaut needs something — say they let go of a tool and it floated off, never to be seen again — a design team back on Earth creates blueprints that can be uploaded to the 3D printer's system. The object can then be manufactured onboard the ISS and be in the astronaut's hands within a day.

In June, the 3D printer produced its first tool: a Kobalt-branded wrench optimized for space. The printer already has a 6-month queue of projects waiting to be manufactured by researchers here on Earth.

Putting a 3D printer in orbit has huge implications for short- and long-term space travel. Until now, anything astronauts wanted either had to be sent up with them at launch, or delivered later during a resupply mission. Both options are expensive and can take days or weeks. In a dire situation, that's not good enough.

Now, instead of having to wait for a resupply or hack a tool from scraps, the crew can press a button and make one in a matter of hours. "It's building responsiveness into the system," says Spencer Pitman, head of product strategy at Made in Space. "The worst thing that could happen is one of the things you didn't bring with you becomes the necessary thing."

Aside from being a safety buffer, the printer is creating medical devices and materials for the International Space Station's many ongoing science experiments.

But perhaps the biggest impact of 3D printing in space is that it brings us one step closer to becoming truly independent space travelers. It releases us from our Earthly bounds, untethers us from our home planet. We could produce, literally out of thin air, nearly anything, most notably, settlements on other planets.

Via: The Week
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