Jun 5, 2017 | By Benedict

A number of medical and aerospace experts have warned that astronauts should brush up on their 3D printing skills—or potentially face death. They say that 3D printed medical devices could be critical as humans attempt the long journey to Mars.

If you visit our site with any regularity, you’ll probably be aware that 3D printing in space is a thing now, and something that happens quite often too. Ever since Made In Space installed a 3D printer on the International Space Station, astronauts have been printing away, producing items both practical and not so practical in zero-gravity conditions. What’s most exciting of all is that the practice has only recently begun, opening the doors to all sorts of exciting future developments.

But according to some space experts, the current crop of astronauts should be better trained in how to use 3D printers. Why? Because it could potentially save their lives—and the lives of their fellow astronauts.

Although astronauts heading into space are almost always in peak physical condition, there is (obviously) still lots that can go wrong with the human body when it hurtles through space in massively unfamiliar physical conditions. Heart problems can occur, while decompression sickness and osteoporotic fractures are also real threats.

Professor Jochen Hinkelbein, President of the German Society for Aerospace Medicine, recently told British newspaper The Telegraph how astronauts could be at a greater risk in the near future than ever before.

“In the context of future long-term missions, for example to Mars, with durations of several years, the risk for severe medical problems is significantly higher,” Hinkelbein said. “Therefore, there is also a substantial risk for a cardiac arrest in space requiring CPR.”

The diagnosis was corroborated by Dr Matthieu Komorowski, a Consultant in Intensive Care and Anaesthesia at Charing Cross hospital in London.

“During these long-duration flights, the estimated risk of severe medical and surgical events, as well as the risk of loss of crew life, are significant,” Komorowski warned.

A component 3D printed on the International Space Station 

So what can astronauts do to protect themselves? Besides obvious things like learning CPR, the answer could lie in the additive manufacturing of medical devices.

These space experts say that advanced training in 3D printing could give astronauts the chance to fabricate potentially life-saving medical equipment while up in space. Of course, 3D printable designs can be put together on Earth and then sent to space, but that becomes more and more difficult the further astronauts go from Earth. Those heading to Mars could totally lose contact with Earth, leaving them in a difficult position if they were to require some 3D printed medical equipment.

In these situations, astronauts would give themselves a huge advantage by honing their CAD and 3D printing skills in advance. While they wouldn’t need to be experts at the practice, having the ability to at least modify and print simple designs could be hugely advantageous.

The view is shared by many in the field of 3D printing, as well as those in medicine and aerospace.

Earlier this year, Toronto-based medical 3D printing company 3D4MD put forward a strategy detailing how ISS astronauts can use their onboard 3D printer to create 3D printed medical supplies. The plan underwent a trial run in January, and could be used in the long term to help astronauts fabricate splints, medical tools, and other items.

Last year, market research firm Future Market Insights valued the global 3D printed medical device market at $279.8 million.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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