Washington, Dec 22 (PTI) NASA has for the first time 'emailed' hardware to space after the US space agency sent a new wrench as an emailed digital file for the International Space Station's onboard 3D printer.
The printer, a collaboration between NASA and company Made In Space, was shipped up to the ISS in September. A request from ISS astronaut Barry Wilmore for a ratcheting socket wrench led the Made In Space team to design the tool after which it sent the digital printing file to NASA which uploaded it to the station.
Once the digital file arrived on the ISS, Wilmore fired up the printer, which churned out 20 separate parts which Wilmore assembled into the exact wrench he'd requested, 'Tech Times' reported. "The socket wrench we just manufactured is the first object we designed on the ground and sent digitally to space, on the fly," Made In Space founder Mike Chen said.
"This is the first time we've ever 'emailed' hardware to space," Chen said. "Because it's a lot faster to send digital data (which can travel at the speed of light) to space than it is to send physical objects (which involves waiting months to years for a rocket), it makes more sense to 3D-print things in space, when we can, instead of launching them," Chen said.
Previously, if astronauts needed an item they would have to wait for it to be flown up on one of the regular supply flights. The on-demand printing of a custom-designed tool is precisely the type of work the printer was intended for, its designers said.
In November, the printer had manufactured the first 3-D printed object in space - a replacement part for itself. NASA says the first objects built in space will be returned to Earth in 2015 for detailed analysis and comparison to identical ground samples to verify that the 3-D printing process works the same in microgravity as it does on Earth.