While you were probably wishing the Christmas break would arrive and be done with already, the astronauts on the International Space Station made history. They 3D-printed a spare part for the 3D printer. In space.
We obviously saw this one coming, since a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship dropped off a 3D printer custom-manufactured by Made In Space earlier this month. But try to wrap your head around the gravity of this accomplishment. The fact that astronauts 3D-printed a spare part means that humans are now manufacturing things in space. This has never been done before! It's also pretty awesome.
"It's not only the first part printed in space, it's really the first object truly manufactured off planet Earth," Aaron Kemmer, the CEO of Made in Space, told the press. "Where there was not an object before, we essentially 'teleported' an object by sending the bits and having it made on the printer. It's a big milestone, not only for NASA and Made In Space, but for humanity as a whole." (Did you catch that little Star Trek reference?)
The part itself is pretty simple: a faceplate for the print head. That's it at the top of this post. It took two calibration passes to get the 3D printer working in zero-gravity, but the replacement part came out looking good enough to use. The ISS astronauts probably won't use it, though, since they're supposed to send it back to Earth for analysis. You might also expect to see it at the Smithsonian at some point in the future. [NBC News]
Image via NASA / Made In Space