By Kris Walker
Could 3D printing one day lead to building a lunar base? Image Credit: http://lunarscience.nasa.gov
I've always been a little sceptical about the future of space exploration in terms of the next stage of space travel and human architecture in space.
How do we get to the point where we could build a lunar base? Or be able to build space stations, space craft in space? How would they be able to build such a large scale project in space?
Back to the present! I always wonder about astronauts up in the space station. If they need to fix something but are missing a part, how would they get it?
Of course the obvious answer would be that they are fully stocked with many types of resources for this type of situation, it's not exactly putting together flatpack furniture!
3D printing has been a revelation within the technology industry and it is constantly improving and doing cool new things. However, it is now that we may be seeing this technology take 'one giant leap for 3D printers' to aid in the production and manufacture of materials in space.
Made in Space Inc. and NASA have joined forces to send a 3D microgravity printer to the international spacestation.
Made in Space Inc. have been previously partnered with NASA, a government leader in 3D printing for engineering applications, through their Flight Opportunities Program - an initiative that offers businesses and researchers the ability to fly new technologies to the edge of space and back for testing before launching them into the harsh space environment.
"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," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said during a recent tour of the agency's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "In the future, perhaps astronauts will be able to print the tools or components they need while in space."
What does this mean for space exploration? The prospect of 3D Printing in zero gravity, could one day lead to building spacecraft in space or even, space stations and bases on other planets.
To get to that point, the initial research to be undertaken will be eble to test whether we can manufacture parts in space using the extrusion additive manufacturing, from the 3D printer, which builds objects out of different types of materials.
"We're taking that technology to new heights, by working with Made in Space to test 3-D printing aboard the space station. Taking advantage of our orbiting national laboratory, we'll be able to test new manufacturing techniques that benefit our astronauts and America's technology development pipeline." Michael Gazarik, NASA's associate administrator for space technology in Washington.
The intention by both parties is that the technology can be ceritified and then ready to be transported to the space station by next year!
The prospect 3D printing in space is another really exciting piece of technology that could see the next step in space exploration.
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If you would like to know more about Made in Space, visit: http://www.madeinspace.us
If you would like further information regarding the directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA's future missions, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech