The International Space Station (ISS) had a high-tech 3D printer installed earlier this year, and the rig just printed out its first specific tool for use in space. That’s right: Instead of having to send these speciality tools up via rocket, astronauts can now print them out on demand.
Space reports the 3D printer, called the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), printed out its first tool last week. The item? A wrench for astronauts to use during maintenance work aboard the space station. If it looks a bit strange, there’s a reason: It also features a fastening clip so astronauts can keep up with the tool in zero gravity.
It’s worth noting this isn’t the first 3D printer in space, but it is the first one that’s set up as a usable piece of equipment that will certainly be put through its paces. NASA also sent a 3D printer into space back in 2014 to test the technology and see how it responds in low gravity. Turns out, it works pretty well, which led to the AMF initiative.
Looking to the future, this a huge development for the future of space exploration. Just look at Star Trek: Starfleet used its own take on 3D printers, which could crank out different items and food on demand. When you’re millions of miles from home and a specific piece of equipment (perhaps a proprietary screw?) breaks, getting a replacement can be the different between life or death.