NASA announced the two winners of their 3-D printed container contest, in partnership with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation, that challenged students to design a tool that would help astronauts on the International Space Station to do their work in a place where tools float around.
Students spent their summer using 3-D software to design the tools that will innovate the astronaut’s life in space, making it more comfortable. They were asked to make their inventions in a range that goes from containers that held collected rocks or food, to more complicated devices for advanced experiments. Each of the finalists won a 3-D printing gift certificate and a week-long scholarship to Space Camp in Alabama.
“The simplest tasks on Earth can be quite challenging, and even dangerous, in space,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s In-Space Manufacturing project manager, according to the press release. “Being able to 3-D print technical parts, as well as the lifestyle items that we use every day will not only help enable deep space travel but can make the trip more pleasant for astronauts.”
Ryan Beam from California won the prize in the teen category (ages 13 to 19) after designing the “ClipCatch” device, which allows astronauts to clip their fingernails without being concerned about the clippings to float away and potentially becoming harmful.
The other winning design on the junior group (ages 5 to 12), made my Emily Takara also from California, uses the surface tension of liquids on a microgravity environment to allow astronauts to make tea in space.
The NASA program for developing 3-D printed technology demonstrates the benefits of manufacturing this device aboard the space station. This is the first step towards “printing” tools that will help astronauts in long-duration missions. Some of these devices won’t be available at the moment at the mission’s launch, and shipping them is very expensive, so the use of this technology could become crucial.
Experts say that this represents a big help for astronauts, as the zero gravity in space affects the decision-making ability and makes it harder to think in space than on Earth.