The first objects to be created in orbit using the upgraded 3-D printer that’s on its way to the International Space Station are likely to be strictly utilitarian, but there’s fun stuff to come.
The Additive Manufacturing Facility, a 3-D printer designed for use in zero-G, was launched on Tuesday night along with more than 7,500 pounds’ worth of additional cargo aboard Orbital ATK’s uncrewed Cygnus cargo capsule. The bus-sized spacecraft, known as the S.S. Rick Husband, is due to rendezvous with the space station on Saturday.
This is actually the second 3-D printer to go into outer space. The first one was an experiment, built by a commercial venture called Made In Space. This time around, Made In Space partnered with Lowe’s Innovation Labs to produce a more capable 3-D printer. The main idea is to provide a way to fabricate plastic tools and spare parts by following computerized instructions that are sent up from the ground.
The first products to come out of the microwave oven-sized printer are supposed to be tools that bear the Lowe’s brand. But Made In Space has struck deals with other commercial ventures to produce more fanciful items once the printing operation gets into full swing.
One of those ventures is Majestic.com, a British specialist search engine company. With guidance from artist Brendan Dawes, Majestic will produce a 3-D visualization that charts the strength of connections on the global Internet. Made In Space will arrange for NASA to uplink the design to the space station for 3-D printing.
“Majestic and MIS [Made In Space] are literally creating a piece of sculpture out of mathematics in space,” Majestic said in a news release. “Can there be a cooler spectacle than watching art meet science to create beautiful things?”
You can track the #MajesticInSpace project via this Web page.
The Internet visualization won’t be the only sculpture to take shape in space: Israeli concept artist Eyal Gever is working with Made In Space to have a 3-D visualization of human laughter printed out on the space station.
"Israeli artist Eyal Gever collaborates with NASA on first space art" https://t.co/jnCWW0YdOa
— Eyal Gever (@eyalgever) February 11, 2016
The sculpture, titled #Laugh, is expected to look like a spiky ball – but the precise shape of the spikes will be determined by acoustic measurements of crowd-sourced mirth. The folks who sign up for the project will be invited to record and submit their laughter via a social-media app. The laughs that get the most shares and retweets will be fed into the design.
After #Laugh is printed out on the space station, the sculpture will be released into orbit, Gever said on the project website.
“The earliest cave paintings were of human hands, which were a way of proclaiming and celebrating the presence of humanity,” he said. “#Laugh will be the 21st-century version of that – a mathematically accurate encapsulation of human laughter, simply floating through space, waiting to be discovered.”
Realistically, #Laugh and any other tchotchkes that are jettisoned from the station are likely to last only a few months before their orbits decay and the darn things burn up in the atmosphere. Let’s just hope all those plastic sculptures don’t end up adding to the worries over space junk.