The most recent printing technologies –3D printing–has gone from this world. NASA will take printing into a whole new level. On Sept. 23, the first 3D printer arrived in the International Space Station (ISS) aboard SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon capsule. .
3D printing is the process of building an item, layer by layer, out of several different kinds of material including metal, plastic, and composite material. There are high hopes that this new printing technology will expand the channel’s manufacturing capabilities. Although having replacement parts delivered to the ISS is expensive and time consuming, this new capability is anticipated to decrease resupply attempts from Earth while cutting prices by creating the prospect of fixing station issues with only a change of a button.
Having this new capacity on board and orbiting the Earth is going to have major effect of how NASA does business. Being able to produce a crucial component in a very brief time is extremely important to any mission in space. Had this capability been in existence during the first years of Gemini, Apollo, or the shuttle, it might have influenced the direction that our manned space program. Maybe Apollo 13 would have made it into the moon instead of making a crisis re-entry back to Earth.
Is this the new technology what we need for the future of space exploration? I think so. 3D printing gives a foundational technology required to get to the goal of moving to Mars and beyond. There’s much research to be done, but one day that the ISS may be a manufacturing hub to continue our journey of researching our galaxy and beyond manned space travel.
The effects are already being felt here on Earth. In light of this blossoming technology, businesses are scrambling to crack in the market of 3D printing. As the demand for this sort of printing increases, so will the need for training and distribution. One day, pupils in class won’t need to bring a pen to class–they can simply publish one.