Apr 18, 2016 | By Tess

NASA, a consistent proponent of additive manufacturing technologies, is reaching out to young makers from across the United States to take part in its most recent Future Engineers challenge, “Think Outside the Box”. The challenge, which was organized in celebration of the arrival of BEAM, the first expandable habitat at the International Space Station (ISS) as well as the launch of the first commercial 3D printer sent into space, is calling out to K-12 students to innovative and design a 3D printable expandable object, which could potentially be used by astronauts in space.

Within the context of space exploration, being able to travel with less cargo and equipment is crucial, as it means smaller rocket payloads, which help save both on space and fuel. Considering this, having the means to additively manufacture parts and objects within space is a revolutionary step for space exploration as it effectively cuts back on the ready-made parts that need to be shipped. Additionally, being able to create objects and parts that can be expanded beyond the build volume of the ISS’ on board 3D printer, would be an even greater step, and is the essential inspiration behind the “Think Outside the Box” junior challenge.

The challenge, as mentioned, is asking young innovative minds to conceive of and design a 3D printed object which can expand or be expanded on beyond the limiting build volume of the ISS’ 3D printer, which measures 14cm long x 10 cm wide x 10 cm tall. As the official challenge page explains, “If you are a K-12 student in the United States, your challenge is to design an object that assembles, telescopes, hinges, accordions, grows, or expands to become larger than the printing bounds of the AMF 3D printer…The assembled or expanded item should be useful for an astronaut living in microgravity on the International Space Station.”

The “Think Outside the Box” challenge was put together by NASA in collaboration with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), who are hoping to promote STEM education as well as to inspire the next generations of makers, engineers, and even astronauts.

The challenge will have two winners, one from the junior designs (5-12 years old) and one from the teen designs (13-19 years old), which will be announced early October 2016. The contest itself will be open until August 1st, when all submissions need to be in. The prizes for the challenge are especially exciting, as the top prize winners will be flown to Las Vegas for a VIP tour of Bigelow Aerospace, which develops expandable space station modules. Additionally, the top four finalists will receive an awesome Heimplanet inflatable tent, and the top 10 semifinalists will each receive a $50 gift certificate for Shapeways 3D printing service.

If you are under the age of 20 and believe you have the skills or vision necessary to take part in the NASA Future Engineers challenge, or know a bright young mind that is up to the task, get designing and maybe your 3D printed expandable object will make it to space! For those over the age limit, perhaps NASA's challenge to design the In-Space Manufacturing  logo will interest you.

 

 

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