Feb 17, 2016 | By Alec

It’s an unavoidable comparison. As 3D printing is about the closest thing to the iconic Replicator from the Star Trek franchise, the uninitiated tend to see a desktop 3D printer in that Sci-Fi context – only to be disappointed to learn they can’t just say an object’s name and wait for the result. But the comparison itself is quite a useful one. With a 3D printer already in the International Space Station (21 plastic tools already 3D printed!), the technology is definitely heading towards a Star Trek-esque future. Though this can take a few decades, NASA is already looking to raise a future generation of engineers and astronauts. Working together with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Foundation and the Star Wars franchise, their goal is to get kids interested in space travel and 3D printing. To do so, they have launched the Star Trek Replicator Challenge, for which kids can design non-edible food-related 3D printable objects. “Calling all Starfleet cadets!”

The Challenge was just announced at New York's Intrepid Air and Space Museum, which incidentally houses a very cool and educational retired aircraft carrier. The challenge is aimed at all kids from kindergarten to the 12th grade, who can develop their own 3D printable designs – for things such as knifes, plates, storage containers, and food growth equipment – as they believe will be used in space by the year 2050.

This is the third ‘Future Engineers’ challenge launched by the ASME Foundation and, like its predecessors, is more about getting kids interested in STEM and design than about the designs they actually submit. The first Future Engineers competition launched in the spring of 2014, and asked students to design a tool that could be 3D printed in space. The second competition was called the “Space Container Challenge” and took place in the fall of 2015, for which participants designed a 3D printable container. Fortunately, 3D printing adds a very tangible and simultaneously useful technique with real-life space applications. To make the competition fairer for young kids, there are also special Junior and Teen age categories.

The competition will run until May 1, and there are some cool prizes to be won. The Junior and Teen winners will receive a trip to NYC to visit the Intrepid Air and Space Museum's "Starfleet Academy" experience, and can even tour the decommissioned Space Shuttle Enterprise with a NASA astronaut as a guide. They will also win a mystery Star Trek prize pack. Moreover, four finalists from each age group will get a 3D printer donated to their school, while 10 semifinalists will also get a prize pack from NASA and Made in Space. The winners will be announced on July 5.

For this edition of the Future Engineers project, students are thus encouraged to be more adventurous and use their imagination. The only rule is that the 3D printable tool should help astronauts to eat nutritious meals in the future. Entries can thus consist of utensils, containers, disposal units – anything they can think of. Even teacups. As long as it can be sustainably manufactured in space. “Sustainability will be a critical aspect of long duration space missions,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s in-space manufacturing manager, “and will require off-planet manufacturing technologies to create all of the items our future astronauts need.” To more find more information on entering, go to the Star Trek™ Replicator Challenge here.



Posted in 3D Printing Events



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