It's official: you can "upload" tools to space. Following its earlier test run, the International Space Station has used 3D printing to make a ratchet based on instructions sent from Earth. It's not exactly a sophisticated implement, but it underscores the advantages of letting astronauts print their own gear. NASA and Made In Space (the company behind the printer) designed, tested and manufactured the ratchet in less than a week -- even if a conventional part was ready to go, it would have had to wait days or weeks for a ride on a delivery vehicle. Researchers will have to take a while studying the practicality of 3D-printed tools (including the effects of microgravity) before they're put into regular service, but it's easy to see a day where crews can always make the equipment they need.
[Image credit: NASA]