ISS Crew Prints First Student-Designed 3D Tool In Space

Posted: Jun 18 2016, 7:21am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 19 2016, 11:12pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
ISS Crew Prints First Student-Designed Tool in Space
Credits: NASA

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Using 3D printed technology, the International Space Station crew has manufactured a tool in micro gravity conditions of space.

The crew aboard the International Space Station has taken space technology to another level. They have just printed the first ever student designed tool in the microgravity conditions of space.

This move may not only help establish off-world manufacturing facility, but also cut the cost of resupplies from Earth.

The Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool was designed by a high school senior from University of Alabama. Robert Hillan, the device creator, participated in the Future Engineers Space Tool design competition which challenged the students to use their imagination and create 3D digital model of a tool they think astronauts could use in space. Hillan’s tool was selected out of hundreds of entries received by NASA.

“Our challenges invite students to invent objects for astronauts, which can be both inspiring and incredibly tough,” said Deanne Bell, founder and director of the Future Engineers. “Students must have the creativity to innovate for the unique environment of space, but also the practical, hands-on knowledge to make something functional and useful. It’s a delicate balance, but this combination of creativity, analytical skills, and fluency in current technology is at the heart of engineering education.”

Hillan’s design fit the criteria for a tool that astronauts could use in space. Moreover, he was provided the opportunity to watch a design he made in print on the ISS. The crew also talked with the student designer of 3D tool for few minutes.

“I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to design something for fabrication on the space station,” said Hillan. “I have always had a passion for space exploration, and space travel in general. I designed the tool to adapt to different situations, and as a result I hope to see variants of the tool being used in the future, hopefully when it can be created using stronger materials.”

But why astronauts need to create 3D objects on board the station? Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s In-Space Manufacturing Project Manager at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center highlights the importance of 3D printed tools for future space missions.

“If an astronaut tool breaks, future space pioneers won’t be able to go to the local hardware store to purchase a replacement, but with 3-D printing they will be able to create their own replacement or even create tools we’ve never seen before.”

The first ever 3D printed object in space was manufactured back in November 2014 and it was a printhead faceplate. 3D printing technology will prove useful in deep space exploration especially for the journey to Mars in near future.

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