NASA Emails a New Wrench to the ISS
NASA just gave the astronauts aboard the ISS the most practical, inspired Christmas gift ever. When Made in Space, the 3-D printing company that designed the printer aboard the ISS, got wind of the fact that an astronaut needed a particular type of socket wrench, they decided to email him one.
Made in Space founder Mike Chen explained to Backchannel: "We had overheard ISS Commander Barry Wilmore (who goes by 'Butch') mention over the radio that he needed one, so we designed one in CAD and sent it up to him faster than a rocket ever could have. This is the first time we've ever "emailed" hardware to space."
Usually, when an astronaut needs a specific object from Earth, it takes months to transport it to the ISS (the next supply run to the station is scheduled for January 2015). So instead of sending a rocket, Made in Space sent an email with digital data, which travels at the speed of light. The data contained designs for a 3-D printed wrench, which was then created when the printer aboard the ISS received the code.
Twenty-one other objects have been 3-D printed in space, but none of them were "emailed" in this manner, nor were they specifically designed for an astronaut's needs. Rather, they were made in order to observe the effects of the ISS's environment on 3-D printed objects. "We will use them to characterize the effects of long-term microgravity on our 3D-printing process, so that we can model and predict the performance of objects that we manufacture in space in the future," explained Chen.