NASA is preparing to launch a 3-D printer into space next year, a toaster-size game changer that greatly reduces the need for astronauts to load up with every tool, spare part, or supply they might need.
The printers would serve as a flying factory of infinite designs, creating objects by extruding layer upon layer of plastic from long strands coiled around large spools. Doctors use them to make replacement joints, and artists use them to build exquisite jewelry.
In NASA labs, engineers are 3-D printing small satellites that could shoot out of the Space Station and transmit data to earth, as well as replacement parts and rocket pieces that can survive extreme temperatures. Full story for BostonGlobe.com subscribers.