How NASA Is Implementing Scrap Metal Recycling in Space3 min read

Every year in the United States, around 260 million tons of waste is recycled to help create a sustainable planet for the future. The demand and need for recycling is only growing as we continue to pump out goods, so you are probably familiar with the more traditional forms of recycling such as separating your cardboard and cans from the trash. NASA, however, is taking the concept one step further – all the way to space.

What is NASA?

NASA, which stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was established in 1958 during the Space Race. They are responsible for the American space program, committing themselves to crucial aeronautic research. Many modern inventions you likely use every day were developed by NASA as a result of our desire to put a man on the moon, including things like GPS navigation, baby formula, wireless headsets, scratch-free lenses, the insulin pump, water filtration systems, firefighting equipment, freeze-dried food, special types of swimsuits, cochlear implants, and the joystick on your video game controller. Although the real crowning achievement of NASA was making America the only country in history to put a man on the moon in 1969, these inventions are also worth noting because it illustrates how the whole world benefited from the Space Race.

Recycling in space

Using a tool named the “Refabricator” that was launched to them from the International Space Station on Nov 17, 2018, NASA is now able to scrap tools and other metal waste, transforming them into new tools. The best part is, they are able to do it right from the space station, with no need to transfer supplies to and from Earth. This technology allows NASA to significantly speed up their operations and be able to create new tools on the fly.

How it works

Once everything is set up, a scientist can walk to the Refabricator, press a button to select which tool they need, and just one cup of coffee later, retrieve their newly created part right from the machine. The Refabricator achieves this by breaking down older tools and parts, using the raw material in a 3-D printer to create the new part within minutes. This device can do copper recycling, plastic recycling, and more. The days of old clunky inventory systems and walking around asking random people where a tool is are officially over.

The big picture

With the rapidly advancing technology of the twenty-first century, you know recycling is going to become more and more important. NASA, with their laser focus on cutting edge technology, recognizes this and has already taken steps to use scrap metal and other waste to recycle in space, which is a smart move that will save them time and money for years to come.

Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most of her time hiking, biking, and gardening. For more information, contact Brooke via Facebook at or Twitter @BrookeChaplan


Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.

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