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NASA emails socket wrench up to ISS for 3D printing

NASA has emailed a wrench to an astronaut up on the International Space Station, rather than having to go to the trouble of actually sending one up to the ISS.

Yep, this is a 3D printer story, and if you’ve been following the tech developments on the ISS of late, you’ll know that Made In Space’s 3D printer was installed on board the station a month ago. It sits in the Microgravity Science Glovebox, and passed all initial tests with flying colours.

And when commander Barry Wilmore made a request for a ratcheting socket wrench, as Wired reports, NASA emailed the design up to him, and the 3D printer created it there and then.

Thus far 21 objects have been created by the printer, with the first non-test run being used to produce a replacement part for the printer itself (a backup faceplate for its extruder printhead).

Mike Chen, co-founder and CSO at Made in Space, commented: “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.”

Mike Snyder, director of R&D for the company, previously described the 3D printer as a project which “demonstrates the basic fundamentals of useful manufacturing in space”, and it’s already proving useful at a very early stage.

Assuming that said wrench doesn’t snap in half during its first day of usage, of course…