2014 is definitely looking to be the year of the 3D printer. NASA has already started using 3D printing here on Earth to manufacture some of the specialized instruments needed for all things NASA. But now the space agency is taking the next, arguably, logical step: 3D printing in space.
This isn’t news, of course. We’ve known since last year that NASA would be shipping components for a 3D printer to the International Space Station in 2014, but they’ve already begun testing the viability of 3D printed components in space by using them in rocket engines and by taking some of them on missions. If the parts consistently hold up, 3D printing will be headed to a new frontier where the technology will probably build most of it.
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate is the driving force behind all the 3D printing NASA does, and according to LaNetra Tate, the advanced-manufacturing principal investigator for the directorate’s Game Changing Development Program, “With additive manufacturing, we have an opportunity to push the envelope on how this technology might be used in zero gravity — how we might ultimately manufacture in space.”
When you consider that NASA is also researching how to build 3D printed habitats and other structures using soil, that holiday house on the moon isn’t sounding as far-fetched now, does it? (It still is though.)