Made in Space

Posted on:January 23, 2015 8:55 am CST

Imagine getting all the way to outer space only to realize you left your socket wrench back on earth. Uh…Houston, we have a problem.

Thankfully, NASA says it now has a solution. Just recently, NASA beamed up a digital design of a ratcheting socket wrench to an innovative new orbiting 3D printer on the International Space Station. Four hours later the space station’s astronauts had a functioning wrench in hand!

NASA Picture Courtesy of NASA

NASA said the wrench measures 4.5 inches long by 1.3 inches wide and is made of 104 layers of extruded plastic. According to NASA, this was the first “uplink tool” manufactured in space, meaning it was the first tool manufactured into a physical part from a digital file sent from earth. The 3D printer, which is the size of a small microwave, had already made several other parts from files downloaded directly onto the machine and then manufactured once the printer was in orbit.

NASA plans to send all of the printed parts back to earth for more testing and to compare these made in space parts to ones made on the ground.

But this one small step in space manufacturing , NASA hopes, is one giant leap towards deep space exploration. This little 3D printer’s mission is just phase one of a much larger plan.

NASA’s 3D print manager explained the far-reaching (literally!) impacts of this new technology in this interview with CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/19/tech/feat-3d-wrench-nasa/index.html

The gist is, if NASA can refine their Made in Space manufacturing, we could soon start seeing long-distance missions to Mars and more.

It kinda makes you wonder what Mathias Klein would’ve thought of all this….we have certainly come a long way since Mathias made his first pair of pliers way back in the 1850’s. In the latest Tradesman TV episode, Barnaby learned a lot about the history of Klein Tools’ manufacturing from Chairman Mathias Klein, III. Check it out here: