Imagine being an astronaut on the moon and something comes up. A vital component of the lander or shuttle is in need of replacement, but you don’t have the spare part on hand. Granted, this is a somewhat unlikely scenario, but it could come up during a long mission on the moon (a possibility in the foreseeable future).
You could attempt to fashion a fix from other parts on-board, or you could use moon rocks to create a replica using a 3D printer. Yes, moon rocks. This is a possibility thanks to recent research conducted at Washington State University.
Like many high-risk and long-term human endeavors, traveling to the moon (and beyond) has a number of variables which could wreck havoc on even the best laid plans. A hard landing could bend or break vital system components, a tool unlike anything the mission crew might have on hand could be necessary to solve problems on the fly. A 3D printer would allow these astronauts to build their own non-electronic equipment in space.
One interesting scenario where this might be particularly useful comes by way of the principal that every pound we send into space costs a significant amount of money. One of the more recent estimates I’ve seen places costs upwards of $10,000/pound. If you could practically replace simple hand tools and other equipment you might use while on the moons surface (like a shovel or hammer) with a 3D printed replica made out of material you can find on the moon’s surface, you’d be theoretically able to do a lot more with a lot less.
3D printing is an excellent technology which is quickly becoming more commonplace among businesses and consumers. Having a 3D printer in your home gives you the ability to bring 3D models made on a computer to life in minutes rather than weeks spent sending designs to fabrication plants for production. This type of fast prototyping is arguably one of the biggest influences on modern design.
So, if you were stranded on the moon, wouldn’t you be glad you had a 3D printer on board to potentially help you out of a jam?