International Space Station receives first ratchet through email

19 Dec 2014

ISS Commander Butch Wilmore holds up the ratchet after removing it from the print tray. Image via NASA

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) produced the first tool to be used on the orbiting space lab after US space agency NASA emailed them a schematic for a 3D-printable ratchet.

3D printing is considered to be vitally important for future missions into deep space as with a 3D printer on board and having the right schematics, astronauts will be able to print usable tools and material on board the craft rather than needing to ship it from Earth which is both time consuming and very expensive.

Last November, the ISS made history by printing the first 3D printed object in space, a component of a faceplate, but has now been able to produce its first ‘uplink tool’ for use on board the craft.

Announcing the news, the Zero 3D Printer’s manufacturers, Made In Space, say this creation was important because until now, all designs had been printed on the machine prior to its launch into space, but this ratchet marks the first time a brand new schematic was sent via email from Earth.

The Made In Space ratchet designed here on Earth. Image via Made In Space

The entire process was designed, tested, sent to NASA for approval and printed on board the station in the space of a week, according to Made In Space, taking a total print time of four hours.

In 2015, along with all the other objects printed aboard the ISS, the rathcet will be compared with the same objects printed here on Earth to judge whether there are any interesting scientific differences between the two.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic