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3D Printing and Aquatic Life in Space

June 4, 2018


There was a lot of traffic to and from space back in 2015, with a splashdown and a launch happening within a day of each other.


First, there was the return of the DRAGON capsule, which you might remember was carried into space by the rocket that SpaceX tried (and failed) to land on a floating ocean platform that January. It came home after about a month at the International Space Station, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean with about 1,600 kilograms (~3,500 pounds) of cargo.


Some of it was just trash and old equipment, but the capsule also delivered the results of several experiments that astronauts have been working on in the ISS. Among their results? A plastic ratchet wrench, and a few preserved fish.


Now, a plastic wrench may not sound like all that big a deal, but this is a very special wrench.


It’s the first object to be designed on Earth, and then have its specifications sent to the ISS to be 3D printed.


The wrench returned with nineteen other tools that were printed in space, but it was the only object that wasn’t pre-programmed into the printer before it was sent to the station.


Since all twenty tools were built in microgravity, they’re going to be put through a battery of tests to see if they hold up as well as parts that are 3D printed on Earth. NASA’s goal here is to eventually be able to send astronauts designs for parts that they can print on the fly, which would be especially important on long missions to places like Mars.


The unrelated, but equally cool experiment has to do with fish.


These are zebrafish, which are kind of freaky-looking, but they're actually a fantastic choice for studying the muscle degeneration that astronauts often experience in orbit.


For starters, you can see through their skin. It’s one thing to study muscle tissue under a microscope, but it’s quite another to actually see it in action.


Also, the zebrafish genome has been completely sequenced, so researchers can figure out what changes that they observe in the fish might be related to their genetics.


A few zebrafish actually returned to Earth alive, but have since died, so they were chemically preserved for the trip back. The hope is that by studying how muscles degenerated in the fish, researchers will be better able to stop the same thing from happening in astronauts while they're in orbit.


That’s a small step for fish, big step for mankind… if there is such a thing. And as far as 3D printing goes, I think 3D printing in space is astronomically cooler.


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Sources: This story was originally published on SciShow Space.

I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest in the subject.

Hofmeister, Caitlin. "3D Printing in Space, and When Venus Meets Mars." SciShow Space, YouTube. 19 Feb, 2015. Web video.

Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "3D Printing and Aquatic Life in Space." SkyFeed. 4 June 2018. Web article.


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