Bay Area students' designs to be 3-D printed in space

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ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
Bay Area students' designs to be 3-D printed in space
Objects designed by students in San Jose will soon be reproduced in space thanks to a 3-D printer.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (KGO) -- Some students in San Jose got to visit NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View on Monday because of what they'll be sending to the International Space Station later this year. The objects won't arrive on a rocket. Instead, they'll get to space via the Internet.

Late last year, an experimental 3-D printer blasted off into space.

It was built by the NASA Ames-based startup Made in Space. And the experiment was a success.

A wrench was among the first objects ever 3-D printed away from earth's gravity. And there'll be more.

A working pair of pliers wasn't designed by engineers, but by high school students.

"It was very difficult to actually design pliers that would work," said Valley Christian High School senior Jonny Erickson. "Mostly because of the build constraints."

NASA requires prints to be solid objects, with nothing that could break off and float around.

"We've really ushered in this new age of zero gravity design, which has never existed in the history of humanity," said Made in Space engineer Brad Kohlenberg. "So these students are some of the first zero gravity designers."

It's a rare opportunity.

"It's amazing, it's absolutely insane, out of this world, literally," said Valley Christian School seventh-grader Ria Kanani.

Kids from Valley Christian Junior High School designed a bust of astronaut Scott Kelly, and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

They'll send a file up to the space station, where it'll be printed and put on display.

"To honor them and their accomplishment of being the first astronaut to be in space for over a year," said Kanani.

The students' objects won't be printed on the first Made in Space printer. That was mainly sent up as an experiment. Instead, they'll be printed on the new 3-D printer headed to space later this year. And the students got a sneak peek at it.

"It'll be faster, it'll have higher resolution, it'll print in multiple materials," Kohlenberg said.

And it could become vital to space exploration.

"When you're four months in on a Mars mission and you need a tool, you're not gonna want to wait for a rocket to get there," Erickson said

Students designed a spring to help astronauts work biceps and triceps while in space. They also designed a puzzle that won't float apart. They've impressed their teacher.

"To see what they do, it just blows my mind," he said.