Oct 10, 2015 | By Benedict

Back in May, NASA challenged students from Kindergarten to 12th grade to design and submit their own 3D printed space containers. Now, the winners of that competition have been announced and the winning designs showcased online.

The competition was launched to encourage creative responses to a genuine problem faced by astronauts: how and where to store everything aboard the spacecraft so that it doesn’t float away in the absence of gravity. NASA therefore asked children worldwide to submit designs for containers that could be put to both basic and scientific uses. Containers are needed for spare parts, food, waste, collecting samples, encouraging plant growth and much more. 

“The simplest tasks on Earth can be quite challenging, and even dangerous, in space,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s In-Space Manufacturing project manager. “Being able to 3-D print technical parts, as well as the lifestyle items that we use every day will not only help enable deep space travel, but can make the trip more pleasant for astronauts.”

Why 3D printing? NASA challenged students to design 3D-printable containers for a simple reason: as astronauts get further from Earth, it becomes extremely difficult and costly to ship new resources to them. If an astronaut realises that a particular tool is required for a certain task, he or she cannot have it sent in the mail. That’s why the 3D printer aboard the International Space Station could play such an important role. After it printed a 3D printed object in space for the first time ever, scientists hope that the 3D printer and other like it will provide invaluable assistance for future missions, enabling mid-expedition production at an unprecedented level.

Students were encouraged to submit their designs in the hope of winning a range of prizes such as 3D printing gift cards, a 3D printer for their school, a one-week scholarship to Space Camp, or an astronaut-guided tour of the space shuttle Endeavor in Los Angeles. NASA launched the 3D-printed container competition in conjunction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation as part of the Future Engineers series of 3D Space Challenges, which is aimed at students, and encourages them to solving genuine space exploration problems.

The winners of the competition were announced on October 8th. The winner of the Teen Group (13-19) was Ryan Beam of Scotts Valley, California. His genius ClipCatch container allows astronauts aboard ISS to clip their fingernails without the clippings floating away and potentially posing a threat to open machinery.

Ryan Beams and his ClipCatch container

Emily Takara, from Cupertino, California, designed the winning Junior Group (5-12) container. Her design, the Flower Tea Cage, uses the surface tension of liquids in a microgravity environment to allow astronauts to make tea. Think tea is easy to make anyway? Not so! In space, liquids form spheres and adhere to anything they touch, making simple matters of refreshment far more complicated.

Emily Takara and her Flower Tea Cage design

The top 10 entries from each age group were:

Teen Group

Junior Group

Some of our personal favourite designs at 3Ders are Casey Johnson’s Paste Dispenser Tube, which dispenses exactly 15cc of material with a turn of its threaded plug, Sarah Daly’s Fly Feeder 7.0, with which astronauts can observe fruit flies, and Joseph Quinn’s Secret Container Cup, which really speaks for itself. Congratulations to all of the winners and to all of the budding designers who took part.

Paste Dispenser Tube

Fly Feeder 7.0

Secret Container Cup

 

 

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