NASA has been using 3D printing to develop a future spacesuit that just might be walking on Mars someday.
While no official NASA project’s goal is to send humans to Mars, it seems that multiple developments are heading that way. One of them is the development of the Z-2 spacesuit, whose design has benefited from 3D printing.
A detailed report on TechRepublic explains that the Z-Series of spacesuits are designed for extra-vehicular activity. These are prototype suits that have not yet seen action in the vacuum. The Z-1 is similar to the spacesuits you may have seen used on the International Space Station, as they are made from pliable materials. In other words, the Z-1 is a “soft suit”.
The Z-2 is different. It includes a “hard torso” that the wearer must enter. This provides additional durability, which is one of the goals for a “planetary” suit such as the Z-2. This is the beginning of a spacesuit that could walk on Mars. The Z-2 will be followed by a Z-3 prototype that leads to a final human-rated planetary suit in 2018 or 2019.
Since the Z-2 includes “hard” parts, it could make use of 3D printing, and that’s exactly what they did. Human subjects were scanning in a variety of positions to develop a shape for the 3D printed hard torso. After testing with humans performing tasks in the suit, feedback was used to redesign and 3D print another iteration. The suit prototypes were 3D printed in Nylon 12 by Solid Concepts using a SLS process.
It’s been a very long time since humans walked on another world. Perhaps 3D printing can make that happen again a lot sooner.