NASA emailed new socket wrench to ISS astronauts

We have a winner for the most interesting email attachment of 2014! NASA recently provided the astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with a new tool via little more than a standard email. The attachment was actually instructions for a special 3D printer the astronauts have thanks to a delivery from a SpaceX Dragon capsule back in September. The printer is specially made to work in low gravity, and the emailed instructions included the design for a socket wrench that was specifically needed.

The 3D printer sent to the ISS was built by Californian company Made in Space, and NASA turned to them again to design the wrench after ISS commander Barry Wilmore made the request for the tool. What's more interesting is that the printer is designed to directly receive the emailed data, as well as be remotely controlled by NASA. So the astronauts don't need to do anything but wait for the printing to be complete and remove the item when it's finished.

As for whatever task the tool will be used for, there's little doubt that a metal wrench would be preferable to one made of plastic. But the advantages of time and cost thanks to the 3D printing make that option far more useful. If astronauts discover they need something during a mission that they don't already have, it would take months of mission planning to have a shipment delivered into space, not to mention the costs involved. Thanks to load of plastic filament that arrived with the printer, any number of objects can be created on the fly, and as Wilmore said, he got what he needed with almost no wait.

While the printer arrived and was set up in September, between now and then only a handful of test objects have been created, so this wrench marks the first useful, needed item to be successfully delivered and printed on the ISS. There is surely a lot more development with this method and technology to come, but it seems likely that NASA will soon begin to rely on on-site printing whenever it's possible.


SOURCE ExtremeTech, Medium/Made in Space