There are no hardware stores in space. That’s the unfortunate reality that Barry Wilmore, Commander of the International Space Station (ISS), faced when he was left needing a wrench. Once staff at NASA became aware that Wilmore was missing the tool that he needed, they decided to e-mail him one.
Aboard the ISS is a 3D printer, designed by California-based Made In Space. The company designed a CAD template for the ratcheting socket wrench Wilmore required. The CAD file was e-mailed to him at the ISS, he fed it into the 3D printer, and the wrench was created within minutes. Although many objects have been printed on-board the ISS before, this is the first time custom item has been designed and then transmitted to the station and manufactured.
Mike Chen from Made In Space said, “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.”