Star Trek, One Step Closer

I’ve written a number of posts about 3D printing because it has so much potential for creating a new kind of world where things aren’t such as concern any longer. If all you really need are some raw materials to print out anything you need, the overstocking of stuff really isn’t a concern any longer. You will have only those items you need because spares of anything aren’t a problem. That’s how things were on Star Trek. People seemed less inclined to hoard anything because there simply wasn’t a reason to do so. That’s why a recent ComputerWorld article, How astronauts 3D printed a wrench they needed in space, grabbed my attention.

The article points out another use for 3D printing, which is fine, but there are a lot of articles about 3D printing now so that’s not really the focal point. The focal point for me is that the printing process met a practical need in an environment where the need couldn’t be met in any other way. The kicker is that the astronaut in question really wanted a ratchet to go with the wrench and they were able to send him one! In reality, the printer received the plans for the ratchet and simply printed it out like any other part.

The essence of the article is about printing things in space that the astronauts need to accomplish useful tasks. At one time, not long ago, if an astronaut didn’t take something along, it wasn’t available. However, read the story in more detail and you find out that the setup recycles the old plastic devices. This means that an astronaut can create a wrench when needed, discard it, and use the same plastic to create something else. That’s the principle behind the replicator in Star Trek. Old things were remade into new things. So what we’re seeing is science fiction becoming science fact right before our eyes.

The future holds the promise of allowing people to perform tasks in a creative way without having to worry nearly as much about resources. The use of 3D printing will eventually make it possible to create anything needed anywhere. Just how long it takes us to move to the next step will be interesting. There is still a lot of low hanging fruit to pick on the technology tree, but eventually we’ll need to conquer the harder issues of being able to produce complex items at the atomic level. That step should prove interesting indeed. Let me know your thoughts about 3D printing at