Just two months after SpaceX delivered Made In Space's zero-gravity 3-D printer to the International Space Station, astronauts aboard report they have completed the first 3-D build in space.
According to Made In Space, which developed the unique printer for NASA, the part will serve as a faceplate for the printer's extruder.
While that might not seem as exciting as, say, a 3-D printed pizza or a piece of hardware to keep the vessel running, it marks an historic moment for the technology nonetheless and also serves as demonstration of the capabilities it will eventually offer space travelers.
NASA, Made In Space and additive manufacturing engineers see this as the first step toward a future of on demand tool-making that will help free explorers to travel longer and further into space.
It's the beginning, they say, of a new space age.
"When the first human fashioned a tool from a rock, it couldn't have been conceived that one day we'd be replicating the same fundamental idea in space," Made In Space CEO, Aaron Kemmer, in a release.
"We look at the operation of the 3-D printer as a transformative moment, not just for space development, but for the capability of our species to live away from Earth."
Looking ahead, this could mean big things for both space travel and the 3-D printing industry.
To date, all projects and work conducted in space have been limited to the supplies brought along from Earth. That means, with sustained missions like the ISS, new work, repairs and basic requirements of life all depend on constant restocking from costly (and risky) space deliveries.
With a 3-D printer on board, however, engineers will be able to print new parts, equipment and someday even food in just a few hours from data beamed up from Earth.
"For the first time, it's no longer true that rockets are the only way to send hardware to space," said Mike Chen, Chief Strategy Officer for Made In Space. And that means fewer risks will be taken, longer missions can be undertaken and, really, just about any experment or part explorers dream up can be built on-site.
It's a small step for 3-D printing, but a giant leap for the future of space travel.