NASA engineers are building the largest rocket ever constructed — one that will eventually take us beyond the moon — using 3D-printed materials.
Creating this rocket, called the Space Launch System (SLS), is a top priority at the agency because it has a big date: Obama wants to get humans to an asteroid and then on to Mars by the mid 2030s. To speed up the construction process, NASA is relying on a form of 3D printing to fabricate some of its engine parts virtually out of thin air.
The machine, called selective laser melting, uses a laser to build a component. Unlike traditional rocket building, which relies on welding together disparate parts, 3D printing starts with an empty table. That space fills up with a completed component, built one layer at a time, out of NASA's 3D-printing material of choice. What used to take weeks to build now only takes hours.
"We were looking at a way to save costs, be more efficient and reduce weight. That's how we got here," says NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr.
"The big thing about 3D printing is that there are no welds with seams, no places for stuff to leak in a component," he tells Mashable. "It starts from nothing and grows into what you want in one fell swoop."