KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – A small desktop-sized 3D printer is about to boldly go where no 3D printer has gone before: space.
This time next week, astronauts onboard the International Space Station will be testing a small 3D printer and seeing whether it can heat plastic and make usable plastic parts in zero-gravity.
"The 3D printer will be the first device that is ever manufactured off of planet earth," said Jason Dunn, co-founder of Made In Space, the company behind the 3D printer.
Dunn, a University of Central Florida alumnus, says the 20-pound square-shaped printer will be able to cut down on resupply missions. For example, if astronauts need a tool when they don't have a tool, they can just print it out.
But looking further down the road, 3D printers could be critical tools for long-term manned space expeditions to Mars.
"It's the idea that one day you don't have to launch anything from the surface of the Earth. You can actually build what you need there with the resources you find in space," said Dunn.
No one has ever melted plastic in space before, so to be sure the printer is safe, Dunn says astronauts will test it inside the space station's microgravity glove box, a safe box where they keep things they don't want floating freely in space.
"This idea really comes from myself and the founders of the company," said Dunn. "We really want to live in space one day and we think it's achievable within our lifetime, but we have to rethink about how we do space exploration."
The printer will be launched Saturday at 2:14 a.m. aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
"I get goose bumps just thinking about it," said Dunn. "As a start-up company in Silicone Valley, we're used to other start-ups building new apps and we're sitting here building space hardware. It's going to be a real testament to what's possible."