Gravity is great--I mean, getting around would be a little bit frustrating without it--but it's boring. Earth is fantastic--except there are only so many places you can go. Outer space offers a literally limitless expanse free from the confines of gravity. For millennia, we have looked up to the stars and dreamt of reaching this beautiful sea of stars, planets, and galaxies. Once we did, a whole new world opened to us, and soon, you might see "Made in Space" stamped on your groceries.
Maybe it seems stupid, but manufacturing in space actually offers numerous benefits over making things on Earth. Companies like nScrypt, Bioficial Organs, and Techshot see space manufacturing as the next big leap in organ transplants. These three companies have collectively created a 3-D printer that literally prints hearts:
tra(photo credit: popsci.com)
Why can't you do that on Earth, you might ask? Eugene Boland, head scientist at Techshot, puts it this way: "If you think about the heart, you're really talking about four big open voids wrapped in muscle." Because of this fact, to actually print a heart in Earth's gravity, the heart has to have some type of support system. No such system that can be removed or dissolved without causing damage to the heart has yet been devised. In the zero-gravity environment of outer space, this issue disappears. Furthermore, printing on earth requires the heart to be printed in separate two-dimensional layers and then reassembled in an extremely lengthy process; however, printing in space allows the organ to actually be printed in 3-D, saving a ton of time.
Why go through all this trouble? For patients with heart transplants, they are required to take drugs for the rest of their lives to prevent their immune systems from rejecting the transplanted organ. But, if the heart were to be printed from the patients own stem cells, the chance of the immune system rejecting the organ drops significantly. Plus, the heart can even be printed to the exact size of the patient's first heart.
But organ transplants are just the tip of the iceberg. Space manufacturing could produce clearer fiber-optic cables, resulting in significantly faster internet speeds. Another intriguing prospect is space-made solar panels. Solar panels made of gallium-arsenide are far more efficient than the silicon ones typically found on earth; however, this compound releases toxic byproducts when manufactured. Making these panels in space lowers the risk of these toxic chemicals causing harm to humans. When complete, these panels would orbit with the Earth in order to capture the maximum amount of sun rays, then "beam" this energy back to Earth in the form of microwaves, diffused enough to avoid harm to organic matter.
Of course, like the dreams of commercial space flights and extraterrestrial colonization, we've got a long way to go before product starts rolling off the celestial manufacturing lines. However, it's not as unrealistic as it may seem at first glance. What are your thoughts? Do you see real benefit in manufacturing in space or does it seem like folly to you? Let me know in the comments below!
I'm a sci-fi/fantasy lover & writer who especially likes talking about Star Wars and futuristic tech. I like finding new things & finding the beauty in old things, especially in my "Everyday Snippets" series. I hope you'll join me on my blog and unleash your imagination!