Associate Administrator, Space Technology Mission Directorate, NASA
Our boss, President Obama, said in April 2010 we’re going to go to Mars by the 2030s, which is true, so we’re working on that. There are a couple of challenges to do that. Mainly, it’s our ability to operate in deep space. And like any explorers, we need all the things that ancient explorers need: the ability to move, propulse, to be able to live in space, to be able to communicate, to be able to navigate. We’re working on all those things. We need a big rocket to get there; we’re developing that. We need a new capsule for humans; we’re developing that. We need technologies to be able to move through space, to live in space.
From a NASA perspective, manufacturing is key — always has been — to what we do in space. Building rocket-engine nozzles is extremely complicated — very expensive, very difficult materials, high temperature, high pressure, very hard to make. [Instead of] carving it out of material, milling it out of material, could you just print it? Could you add it? Could you layer it up? That’s something we’re interested in.
Our next natural avenue is to do this manufacturing in space on the international space station. If you’ve seen “Apollo 13” and they had to kind of duct-tape together that air scrubber if you remember in the movie, well, if we had a 3-D printer, we’d just print a new one. So that’s where we want to be; that’s where we want to be is: We ought to make that in space.