Printing Challenges For First 3D Printer Aboard International Space Station

December 9, 2014 – America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machinery. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and make almost anything, and the applications to space exploration will help our astronauts to be less reliant on materials from Earth as they explore farther out into the solar system.

NASA, in conjunction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation, has issued a series of “Future Engineers” 3D Space Challenges for students focused on solving real-world space exploration problems. Students will become the creators and innovators of tomorrow by using 3D modeling software to submit their designs and have the opportunity for their design to be printed on the first 3D printer aboard the International Space Station. The winning student will watch from NASA’s Payload Operations Center with the mission control team as the item is printed in space.

The 3D printer that was launched to the space station in fall 2014 underwent testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Image Credit: NASA

The 3D printer that was launched to the space station in fall 2014 underwent testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Image Credit: NASA

The Design a Space Tool Challenge is the first in series of challenges where students in grades K-12 will create and submit a digital 3D model of a tool that they think astronauts need in space. Future Engineers is a multi-year education initiative that consists of 3D Space Challenges and curriculum videos on the site that parents and educators can use to get kids designing today.

NASA’s 3D Printing in Zero-G ISS Technology Demonstration will demonstrate the capability of utilizing a Made In Space 3D printer for in-space additive manufacturing technology. This is the first step toward realizing an additive manufacturing, print-on-demand “machine shop” for long-duration missions and sustaining human exploration of other planets, where there is extremely limited ability and availability of Earth-based logistics support.

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 3D printing they will be able to create their own replacement or create tools we’ve never seen before. For NASA as well as the Maker community, 3D printing provides end-to-end product development.

NASA and the ASME Foundation will work together to inspire the next generation of space enthusiasts by highlighting student’s 3D designs submissions in Maker Community Challenge Showcases and in on online open hardware design repository.

The 3D Print Design Challenge submission deadline is December 15. To sign up for more information on the challenge, visit: http://www.futureengineers.org