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3-D Printer, 'Gecko Grippers' Heading to Space Station

  • Reuters

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft stack sits on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, March 21, 2016.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft stack sits on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, March 21, 2016.

A cargo ship with supplies and science experiments for the International Space Station crew is scheduled to blast off from Florida on Tuesday, carrying a 3-D printer to build tools for astronauts and non-stick grippers modeled after gecko feet.

NASA is sending nearly 7,500 pounds (3,400 kg) of supplies to the $100 billion space research laboratory, which flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth and is staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts.

Tuesday's launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida is scheduled for 11:05 p.m. EDT (0305 GMT Wednesday), with a backup opportunity at 10:40 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.

The printer works by heating plastic, metal or other materials into streams that can be layered on top of each other to create three-dimensional objects.

The experimental Gecko Gripper is a new kind of adhesive that mimics the way gecko lizards cling to surfaces without falling. It aims to test a method of attaching things in the weightless environment of space.

NASA is looking at robotic versions of gecko feet to attach sensors and other instruments onto and inside satellites.

The Gecko Gripper technology may lead to terrestrial versions of grippers that could, for example, hold flat-screen TVs to walls without anchoring systems and adhesives, said lead researcher Aaron Parness with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Orbital's Cygnus capsule is launching on an Atlas 5 rocket, purchased from United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed-Martin and Boeing.

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