Astronauts Have Been Dealing With the Same Crappy Printers for 17 Years

(19 Feb. 2010) --- , ... ]

(19 Feb. 2010) --- , ... ] NASA

Even people on the International Space Station deal with paper jams and ink shortages.

While there is a lot of advanced technology aboard the International Space Station, astronauts also need to use some mundane tech to conduct their missions, like a home printer.

Yes, astronauts need printers too. And the crew aboard the ISS has been using the same two outdated models for 17 years, one on the U.S. side of the station and the other on the Russian side.

They've used these two printers to print out around 1,000 pages per month, according to NASA. These pages consist of mission-critical information, emergency plans and procedures, and photos from home.

"The printer’s been problematic for the last five or six years," said NASA astronaut Don Pettit.

But this will change in February 2018. NASA has collaborated with HP to develop two specialized printers that they will send up to the station, Mashable reports

NASA specifically needed a printer that would work in zero gravity, so, for example, that paper wouldn't float away from the tray when it wasn't being printed. But NASA also needed the device to be flame retardant and power efficient, due to the constrained ecosystem of the station.

The company decided to take an existing printer, the HP Envy 5600, and modify it with specialized parts. For example, the printer carriage typically hangs on a rod that uses gravity to pull it into position. HP replaced it with a mechanical rod that held the carriage in place. HP also 3D-printed parts, like the printer output tray, with material that is lighter and more flexible than standard printer parts. 

Once the printer was built, NASA and HP decided to take it for a spin aboard a parabolic flight to see if the "HP Envy Zero Gravity Printer" truly worked in zero gravity. After three days of testing, the printer held up.

“We want to use this through the remainder of the ISS program. Officially through 2024, with plans through 2028,” said Stephen Hunter, manager of ISS Computer Resources.