NASA clearly loves 3D printing as much as we do — to the extent that it's decided to take an entire 3D printer into space as early as next year.
The US space agency has co-designed a custom shoe-box sized 3D printer, made specifically to work in micro-gravitational conditions. The hope is that it will make it aboard the International Space Station sometime in 2014.
Before that can happen, NASA and co-designer Made in Space will take the printer on one final test flight later this summer to observe it's ability to safely handle microgravity. While that shouldn't prove much of a hurdle — the teams have apparently been working on the technology since 2011 — things can, and do, go wrong in space.
The printer itself is much like any other: it adds layers of plastic or metal to print 3D components additively. Fully enclosed in metal with a glass window on the front, the astronauts will be able to see what's happening inside, while stray material will be stopped from floating around the ISS.
And what will it be used for? In the first instance, manufacturing small replacement parts for the ISS and the crew: clips, buckles, and other little components, say. But almost certainly not pizza. [Made in Space via Verge]