NASA-ISS Commander Barry Wilmore 3D printed wrench-640px

Now that the International Space Station has a 3D printer, which was installed in September, tools and parts can be emailed. It happened for the first time when ground crews overheard Commander Barry Wilmore (pictured above) saying he needed a ratcheting socket wrench.

“The socket wrench that we just manufactured is the first object that was designed on the ground and sent digitally to space, on the fly,” he said. “It’s a lot faster to send digital data than it is to send physical objects, which involves waiting months to years for a rocket.”

The team started by designing the tool with CAD software on the computer. Then they converted it to a 3D-printer-ready format. The plans were then sent to the space station and received by the 3D printer, pictured below. Plastic filament was heated in the printer and the tool was manufactured layer by layer.

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3D printer on ISS station-NASA

Photo credit: NASA / Story tip from Mike McGinley