When you are an astronaut living on the International Space Station (ISS), it would be best if you were prepared beforehand to bring everything that you need – and might need down the road throughout the entire duration of the mission, since it isn’t exactly located near a convenience store or supermarket should you require something like a spanner or some other kind of hardware. Well, thanks to the wonders of email and 3D printing, astronauts on the ISS will be able to print out selected spare parts as and when required. In fact, today is a landmark moment where it is the first time that hardware of any sort has been “emailed” to space.
Astronauts on the International Space Station have used their 3-D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in an email. It is the first time hardware has been “emailed” to space. Nasa was responding to a request by ISS commander Barry Wilmore for a ratcheting socket wrench. Previously, if astronauts requested a specific item they could have waited months for it to be flown up on one of the regular supply flights. 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.” Mr Wilmore installed the printer on the ISS on 17 November. On 25 November he used the machine to fabricate its first object, a replacement part for the printer. Nasa says the capability will help astronauts be more self-reliant on future long duration space missions. 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.