In autumn of 2014, a high school senior in Enterprise, Alabama, Robert Hillan entered the Future Engineers Space Tool design competition, which challenged students to create a device astronauts could use in space. In January 2015, NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation announced that Hillan’s design, a Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool, was selected out of hundreds of entries to be printed on the station.
Hillan’s design features multiple tools on one compact unit, including different sized wrenches, drives to attach sockets, a precision measuring tool for wire gauges, and a single-edged wire stripper. After the new manufacturing facility was installed on the station in March, NASA uploaded Hillan’s design to be printed.
As a bonus, Hillan was invited to watch his tool come off the printer from a unique vantage point. Recently, standing amidst the flight controllers in the Payload Operations Integration Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which is mission control for space station science, Hillan looked on as NASA astronaut Jeff Williams displayed the finished tool from the station’s Additive Manufacturing Facility.
NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, a current station crew member, congratulated Hillan, saying “When you have a problem, it will drive specific requirements and solutions. 3-D printing allows you to do a quick design to meet those requirements. That’s the beauty of this tool and this technology. You can produce something you hadn’t anticipated and do it on short notice. You have a great future ahead of you.”