What Will You 3D Print in Space?

Oct 9, 2014

The Future Engineers 3D Printing in Space Challenge has officially launched! The competition, which was developed jointly by NASA and the ASME Foundation and hosted at FutureEngineers.org, gives K-12 students the opportunity to design items that could ultimately be manufactured in space. The challenge officially kicked off last month when a Space X rocket carrying a zero-gravity 3D printer launched from Cape Canaveral destined for the International Space Station.

As reported by ASME News in July, the space agency and the Foundation plan to develop a series of 3D design challenges and curricula intended to inspire students to solve real-world exploration problems. For the inaugural challenge, students aged 5 to 19 are being asked to design a 3D model of a tool that could be used by astronauts in space.

The challenge offers two age divisions for K-12 students in the United States, and the program partners are offering an impressive lineup of prizes, from a VIP tour of SpaceX to a 3D printer that will be donated to a student’s school. Perhaps the most exciting prize is a trip to NASA’s Payload Operations Center in Huntsville, Ala., to watch live as his or her tool is printed on the space station. Students have until Dec. 15 to submit their entries through the Future Engineers website.

The Future Engineers challenge is the first program to result from a five-year agreement the ASME Foundation recently signed with NASA to develop activities to increase interest among young people in science, math, technology, and, in particular, engineering. According to Deanne Bell, a mechanical engineer, member of the ASME Foundation’s Board of Directors, and program director for Future Engineers, the current contest is the first in a series of student competitions that will be offered through the program. In fact, she said the team’s goal is to eventually roll out a new 3D design challenge each semester.

“Engineering isn't just a term reserved for adults with degrees,” Bell said. “Kids have the capacity to engineer too — to tinker, to create, to problem solve. 3D printing is just one way to get that message across. I was in college before I held the first digitally modeled part I designed in my hand. It was so empowering to know that I turned my idea into a tangible reality. Imagine if we can give that feeling to a 10 year old with a 3D printer. Imagine how many more innovators we can inspire.”

Bell added that ASME members and student members can help the Future Engineers initiative by becoming mentors and advocates for the program in their communities. “ASME has perhaps the largest network of CAD software users in the world, and we have the opportunity to step up in a big way as mentors,” she said. “Teachers need our help. Parents need our help. And most importantly, students need our help. While the mentorship network of our program is still in development, we are excited to embrace those that want to be advocates for 3D design and additive manufacturing in their community.”

“Furthermore, not every student has had the privilege of seeing the excitement of 3D printing first-hand,” she continued. “So if you have access to a college, corporate, or local additive manufacturing facility — whether it is a desktop printer or an industrial grade 3D printer — I encourage you to also get engaged with our challenges as a potential 3D printing showcase location.”

For more information about the inaugural Future Engineers Challenge — including rules, dates, and eligibility — visit http://futureengineers.org. ASME members and student members who are interested in becoming volunteers and mentors can sign up on the website’s "Get Involved" section.

The program has also developed a suite of educational videos and brainstorming resources to help students get started. To watch a video where Deanne Bell explains solid modeling concepts, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouvf-4wciak.

Individuals or companies who would like to support the Future Engineers program financially should contact Dora Nagy at the ASME Foundation by e-mail at nagyd@asme.org. To learn more about the Foundation, visit www.asme.org/about-asme/get-involved/asme-foundation.