Believe It or Not, NASA Emailed a Wrench into Space
Barry Wilmore, commander at the International Space Station, needed a wrench, and he needed it quicker than Amazon could deliver it. In response, NASA decided to forego Amazon’s new one-hour delivery service and ship it to him personally. Through email.
My colleagues and I just 3D-printed a ratcheting socket wrench on the International Space Station by typing some commands on our computer in California.
Emailing Hardware to Space
That statement was from Made In Space, a California-based company contracted by NASA for their zero-gravity 3D printing technology.
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. This is the first time we’ve ever “emailed” hardware to space.
According to Made In Space, the “space-made” socket wrench is the first object they designed at their location on the ground and emailed into space in a moment’s notice. Upon hearing Wilmore mention he needed the wrench, they took to their computers and designed the parts in CAD, converting it to a 3D printer format called G-code.
Next, Made In Space sent the file to NASA, who then transmitted it to the International Space Station. The 3D printer received the code and began printing, so Wilmore simply reached inside the machine and grabbed his new socket wrench once it was complete.
On the ISS this type of technology translates to lower costs for experiments, faster design iteration, and a safer, better experience for the crew members, who can use it to replace broken parts or create new tools on demand.
Made In Space and NASA Looking More Toward the Future
When Made in Space and NASA first sent their zero-gravity 3D printer into space on September 20, they certainly knew they were changing the way the world works. It was the first time that a multi-purpose manufacturing device was planned to be utilized in space to create any parts or tools that might be necessary in case of an emergency.
“Everything that has ever been built for space has been built on the ground. Tremendous amounts of money and time have been spent to place even the simplest of items in space to aid exploration and development,” said Aaron Kemmer, chief executive officer of Made In Space. “This new capability will fundamentally change how the supply and development of space missions is looked at.”
But at its core, Made In Space and NASA aren’t just thinking about what’s happening now. The company said it most looks forward to colonization off of Earth upon sending the wrench into space.
“What I’m really excited about is the impact this could have on human space exploration beyond Earth orbit,” Made In Space said. “When we do set up the first human colonies on the moon, Mars and beyond, we won’t use rockets to bring along everything we need. We’ll build what we need there, when we need it.”
Images from NASA and Made in Space.