In a world where everything from food to bionic implants is being 3D printed, it might seem as if the technology is nearing a plateau. But if NASA has anything to say about it, the era of 3D printing has only just begun. That's because NASA and Made in Space Inc. have developed the world's first microgravity printing equipment. They've even tested it on the vomit comet. As part of an upcoming mission, the equipment will be sent to the International Space Station.
If all goes well, the 3-D Printing in Zero G Experiment (or 3-D Print) will become not only the first 3D printer outside Earth's atmosphere, but the first device of any sort to manufacture objects in space, a step which NASA administrator Charles Bolden views as crucial to the future of space exploration:
"As NASA ventures further into space, whether redirecting an asteroid or sending humans to Mars, we'll need transformative technology to reduce cargo weight and volume. In the future, perhaps astronauts will be able to print the tools or components they need while in space."
With private companies already planning to use 3D printing on the moon, NASA's first step into space manufacturing comes at a perfect time. The results, successful or not, will inform the 3D printed structures of space exploration's very sci-fi, very near future.