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#MadeInSpace: Scientists Put 3D Printer Into Orbit

On April 13, 1970, an oxygen tank on a spacecraft carrying three Apollo 13 astronauts to the moon exploded. They were 200, 000 miles from home, stuck in a crippled spacecraft, and to make matters worse, they were running out of air. Using only materials the team had on board their spacecraft, they fashioned a makeshift carbon dioxide filter out of plastic bags, cardboard, and duct tape.

Space travel is unpredictable. So much can go wrong, and it’s impossible to plan for and respond quickly to all of it. As a result, we’re limited in how far we can go, and for how long. But that’s changing. Right now, orbiting 250 miles above Earth on the International Space Station, sits a tool that could revolutionize human space travel: a 3D printer.

“Space is the final frontier,” says Andrew Rush, CEO of Made in Space, the company behind the printer. Rush says his team members are “just a bunch of guys who want to see people live and work in space in a sustainable, ongoing way.” To help make that happen, they teamed up with hardware store Lowe’s to design the device, which arrived at the ISS earlier this year.

If an astronaut needs something — say they let go of a tool and it floated off, never to be seen again — a design team back on Earth creates blueprints that can be uploaded to the 3D printer’s system. The object can then be manufactured onboard the ISS and be in the astronaut’s hands within a day.

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