NASA has 'emailed' a piece of hardware to astronauts on the International Space Station for the first time in a landmark moment that could have major implications for the future of space exploration.
The space agency emailed the instructions for a spanner to a 3D printer on board the space station after overhearing that commander Barry Wilmore was in need of one, according to a post on the Medium.com website.
The post was written by Mike Chen, founder of Made In Space, the company behind the 3D printer, and says that this is just the start of a development system where everything needed in space will be printed in space.
He explained that it is quicker and cheaper to ‘send' hardware this way, as the alternative can take as long as two years. A total of 21 objects will be sent to the ISS.
"We had overheard ISS commander Barry Wilmore 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," he wrote.
"On the ISS this type of technology translates to lower costs for experiments, faster design iteration, and a safer, better experience for the crew members, who can use it to replace broken parts or create new tools on demand."
The most exciting aspect, according to Chen, is the impact it could have on human space exploration.
"When we do set up the first human colonies on the moon, Mars and beyond, we won't use rockets to bring along everything we need. We'll build what we need there, when we need it," he said.
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