NASA Challenges You to Think Outside the Box

To celebrate the arrival of the first expandable habitat to the International Space Station and the launch of the first commercial 3-D printer to space, the ASME Foundation and NASA have issued a brand new Future Engineers challenge. The ‘Think Outside the Box’ challenge asks K-12 students to design an object for astronauts that can be printed within the bounds of the newest 3-D printer on the space station (10 cm x 10 cm x 14 cm), but can be assembled or expanded to become larger than that box.


In space exploration, scientists and engineers often strive to make more from less. Smaller rocket payloads are needed to save cargo space and fuel, while sustainable technologies are needed to reduce, reuse, and recycle what is brought to space. NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities, and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond low-Earth orbit. Two demonstrations of such pioneering space technologies include the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) and Made In Space’s Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).

BEAM, which launched to the station on SpaceX CRS-8, is a module made up of layers of fabric that will be expanding after it is installed. It is designed to test and validate expandable habitat technology, paving the way for future habitats on deep space missions.

Made In Space’s AMF launched to the station on Orbital ATK’s OA-6. AMF is a permanent, commercial manufacturing facility, offering entities conducting research on the space station the opportunity to purchase necessary hardware in space instead of launching it.

Like its predecessor, the AMF 3-D printer will also provide research that advances the long-term goal of developing off-planet manufacturing capabilities for destinations like the moon or Mars.

Announced at the USA Science & Engineering Festival, the ‘Think Outside the Box’ challenge offers an exciting lineup of prizes. The junior and teen winners will receive a trip to Las Vegas for a VIP tour of Bigelow Aerospace and the finalists will win an expedition-worthy inflatable tent from Heimplanet. The challenge will remain open through the summer and students must submit their expandable designs by August 1, 2016.

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