Meet the startup hoping to colonise the final frontier, one zero-gravity 3D printer at a time
During the early weeks of his 167-day stint aboard the International Space Station in 2014, astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore noticed that a torque wrench was missing. “It’s not uncommon for things to disappear in space,” he tells me over the phone from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “You just don’t have gravity keeping stuff in place.” Wilmore mentioned the missing tool to Nasa’s mission control as he was tending to a 3D printer, a microwave-sized box that extrudes heated plastic to build up objects layer by layer, which was being tested on the space station.
About a week later, Wilmore opened the door to the 3D printer to find a perfect replica of his missing wrench. He was thrilled, a moment captured in a photo that was shared with the world’s media at the time. Until that point, the machine had produced only very simple objects. “This was a printed, all-inclusive wrench, with a ratchet mechanism, that worked,” Wilmore says.