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NASA to send 3-D printer to space station to churn out parts

NASA plans to send a 3-D printer to the space station next year, hoping it can help astronauts avoid emergencies such as the one that occurred on Apollo 13 in 1970. Above, Kevin Bacon and Tom Hanks in the 1996 movie "Apollo 13."
(Ron Batzdorff)

NASA is planning to send a 3-D printer into space and use it as a mini factory to churn out tools and instruments, sparing astronauts the hassle of lugging spare parts on each mission, according to a report.

The printer is slated to go into space in the fall of 2014 on a supply mission, Associated Press said.

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NASA engineers envision a time when 3-D printers can print virtually any part that is needed and avert potential catastrophes in outer space.

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“Any time we realize we can 3-D print something in space, it’s like Christmas,” Andrew Filo, a consultant with NASA on the printing project, told AP. “You can get rid of concepts like rationing, scarce or irreplaceable.”

Certain industries, such as auto manufacturing, have used 3-D printers for some time, and the devices are creeping into the consumer market as well. They “print” three-dimensional objects by melting plastic, metal or other materials and depositing the liquid, layer by tiny layer, according to a three-dimensional, computer-generated design of a necklace, say, or a fork.

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In tests, NASA engineers have used 3-D printers to create satellites that can transmit information to Earth and also parts that can survive the harsh environment of outer space, the report said.

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Theoretically, such printers can help prevent situations such as the Apollo 13 incident in 1970, when astronauts had to make their own carbon dioxide filter with ingenuity and duct tape.

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