Handy! 3-D Printing Could Build Moon Bases And Improve Items Used In Space

Star Trek replicators, here we come. The European Space Agency has released a list of how 3-D printing could change space exploration forever. And lest you think this type of printing is far in the future, images like those disembodied hands above show you it’s come a long way. Those are 3-D replicas of a glove worn by European Space Agency astronaut Hans Schlegal.

The applications range from the small — making lighter valves, for example — to ambitious projects such as constructing a moon base. Below are some ESA images showing uses for 3-D printing, and if they’ve missed some, be sure to let us know in the comments.

Two valves -- which is the 3-D printed one? It's the one on the right. The original (left) is a water on-off valve (Woov) flown on the European Space Agency's Columbus module on the International Space Station. The replica is 40 percent less massive. Credit: ESA
Two valves — which is the 3-D printed one? It’s the one on the right. The original (left) is a water on-off valve (Woov) flown on the European Space Agency’s Columbus module on the International Space Station. The replica is 40 percent less massive. Credit: ESA
Artist's conception of a lunar dome based on 3-D printing. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners
Artist’s conception of a lunar dome based on 3-D printing. Credit: ESA/Foster + Partners
A 3-D printed showerhead injector that apparently saves on time in the normal manufacturing process: usually it takes "more than 100 separate welds to produce", according to the European Space Agency. The holes, however, are made by secondary processing. Credit: ESA
A 3-D printed showerhead injector that apparently saves on time in the normal manufacturing process: usually it takes “more than 100 separate welds to produce”, according to the European Space Agency. The holes, however, are made by secondary processing. Credit: ESA
A closeup of a titanium lattice ball made using a 3-D printer. According to the European Space Agency, the hollow spheres have a "complex external geometry" that cannot be made with the usual manufacturing processes. Credit: ESA
A closeup of a titanium lattice ball made using a 3-D printer. According to the European Space Agency, the hollow spheres have a “complex external geometry” that cannot be made with the usual manufacturing processes. Credit: ESA