Astronauts just 3D-printed knee cartilage in space for the 1st time and it's as weird as it sounds

an astronaut floating in spies smiles while handling laboratory equipment
NASA astronaut Josh Cassada, a member of SpaceX Crew-6, alongside Redwire Corp.'s 3D BioFabrication Facility in the International Space Station in 2023. (Image credit: NASA)

In a big leap for human health, knee cartilage was manufactured in space for the first time.

A 3D-printed human knee meniscus was created on the International Space Station, in a facility with Florida-based Redwire Corp. The milestone effort will allow for improved knee treatments, which are common among military service members and aging seniors.

"This is a groundbreaking milestone with significant implications for human health," Redwire executive vice president John Vellinger said in a statement Thursday (Sept. 7). The meniscus has already been analyzed on Earth, having returned with the SpaceX Crew-6 astronauts during splashdown on Sept. 4.

Related: SpaceX's Crew-6 astronauts splash down after 6-month stay on ISS 

In general, manufacturing items in space allows advantages that are not easily accessible here on Earth. Microgravity conditions, for example, do not cause items to be pulled or stretched due to Earth's gravity, which may warp the desired shape.

Redwire currently has 10 research facilities operating on the ISS, and more new research is coming soon. In November, Redwire will send several pharmaceutical payloads on a SpaceX Dragon cargo mission known as CRS-29. Among them is an experiment to bioprint cardiac tissue.

Redwire upgraded its 3D BioFabrication Facility in January ahead of the knee meniscus manufacturing. The upgraded facility "allows greater temperature control when printing with bioinks that are sensitive to temperatures," officials stated at the time.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: