NASA 3D Printer: International Space Station Will Get Replicating Device To Print Tools, Parts [VIDEO]

By Josh Lieberman on August 14, 2013 4:56 PM EDT

3d printer
NASA will send a 3D printer up to the International Space Station in June 2014. Above, a 3D printer in Vancouver creates a sculpture. (Photo: Deviantart: ~nyxchaotica)

NASA will send a 3D printer to the International Space Station in order to help astronauts keep all the little parts they need on hand.

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The 3D printer, which will be sent up to International Space Station during the fifth SpaceX supply mission, will reach the astronauts pre-loaded with software for parts they may need to replace. NASA will also be able to upload plans to the 3D printer from Earth.

"It provides us the ability to do our own Star Trek 'replication' on the spot," said Timothy Creamer, a NASA astronaut who has been on the International Space Station. " It helps us replace things we've lost -- or things we've broken -- and to make anything we have thought of that could be useful."

The 3D printer was created by Made In Space, a private company, and was recently tested at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to make sure it could perform in the "micro-gravity" of the International Space Station.

"Not only does the printer need to work in extended microgravity, but it needs to be capable of surviving the extreme forces imposed on it during launch, and meet a very long list of NASA imposed requirements to fly hardware to the International Space Station," said Made In Space founders Aaron Kemmer, Jason Dunn and Mike Chen in an interview. "These are just some of the developments we've needed to make. It's taken us thousands of pages of internal documentation just to describe the engineering work we've done to get our printer ready for space."

Kemmer, the CEO of Made In Space, said that 3D printing in space both increases the safety of space missions while reducing the cost of supplies. The 3D printer will also be the first device to ever manufacture something in space.

The 3D printer will head to ISS as part of the fifth SpaceX supply mission in June 2014.

While a 3D printer that can manufacture necessary tools and parts is important, what's more important is the ability to create 3D-printed pizza in space. NASA announced in May that they've contracted a company to work on a printer that can print food in space. That research is still underway, so hopefully the International Space Station will be able to have an International Pizza Party when the sixth SpaceX supply mission rolls around.

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