Twenty-one 3D items including a ratchet wrench -- the first-ever 3D tool built in space -- have come back to NASA in sealed bags from the International Space Station (ISS) for further testing.
Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, have unboxed the special cargo carrying first items manufactured in space with a 3D printer. The 3D printer used 14 different designs and built a total of 21 items and some calibration coupons.
The items were manufactured as part of the "3D Printing in Zero-G Technology Demonstration" on the space station to show that additive manufacturing can make a variety of parts and tools in space.
These early in-space 3D printing demonstrations are the first steps toward realizing an additive manufacturing, print-on-demand "machine shop" for long-duration missions and sustaining human exploration of other planets.
In-space manufacturing technologies like 3-D printing will help NASA explore Mars, asteroids and other locations, the US space agency said in a statement.
To make the items, the printer heated a relatively low-temperature plastic filament to build parts, layer on top of layer, in designs supplied to the machine.
The printer remains on aboard the station for continued use later this year. The station provides a one-of-a-kind laboratory for demonstrating additive manufacturing in the microgravity environment where NASA wants to use the technology.