Nasa is planning to launch a 3D printer into space in 2014 to help astronauts manufacture spare parts and tools in zero gravity.
It will be the first time a 3D printer has been used in space and could help reduce the costs of future missions.
Nasa has chosen technology start-up Made in Space to make the printer.
The news comes as NASA also protypes 3d-printed rocket parts for their missions.
"Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station," said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space.
"Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?"
In 1970, Apollo 13 astronauts had to cobble together a home-made carbon dioxide filter using a plastic bag, a manual cover and gaffer tape.
A 3D printer might have solved the problem in minutes and helped them reach the Moon.
"If you want to be adaptable, you have to be able to design and manufacture on the fly, and that's where 3D printing in space comes in,'' said Dave Korsmeyer, director of engineering at Nasa's Ames Research Center.
Nasa is also experimenting with 3D printing small satellites that could be launched from the International Space Station and then transmit data to earth.
Additive manufacturing, as 3D printing is also known, builds up objects layer by layer, commonly using polymer materials.
But laser-melted titanium and nickel-chromium powders are now being used to build much stronger components.
Private space company SpaceX, headed by Elon Musk of Tesla, is also looking into 3D technology, with plans to create components out of 3D printing by using eye and hand gestures.
Aaron Kemmer, CEO and co-founder of Made in Space, looks through some items. Specialized 3D printers would allow astronauts to produce the things they need on-demand when they're in space, allowing them to travel farther from the Earth