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SpaceShop – a makerspace at NASA AMES Research Center

SpaceShop – a makerspace at NASA AMES Research Center

Mid-November 2013 I visited SpaceShop at NASA Ames Research Center – a makerspace built for NASA Engineers. Matthew Reyes is the man responsible for setting up the space and being my host for the afternoon. He is also an advisor to SpaceGAMBIT (our DARPA funded Hackerspace Space Program grant)

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The SpaceShop shares a building with the Ames copy center and what is (to date) the most impressive machine shop I have ever been in. Lets start with the upstairs, where you find the SpaceShop itself.

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Matthew outfitted the space with most of the equipment required for a FabLab. He found a whole lotta desks and other equipment on the NASA Ames site, much of it slated for disposal. I am seriously jealous of his dumpster diving location. (not all was actually going in landfill/dumpster. Some would be sold – usually at scrap prices.)

The first room through those doors holds the laser cutter and 3D printers – he as at least 3 printers so far, with the UP being his current favorite (that is NOT an endorsement by Matthew or NASA – merely what I gathered from casual conversation.) Matthew and his NASA crew (namely the talented Andrew Filo) have created 3D Models of a number of spacecraft AND the asteroids they have studied. These models are available on Thingiverse (note many of these were NOT created by SpaceShop).

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The next room holds the full size shopbot, and some other shop tools.
One of the projects Matthew and the Ames Makers have been working on are carved foam terrain maps of Mars. See that pink sheet on the shopbot? That’s a bit of the Mars surface. In the flickr set (see below) there is a shot of more of em standing in Matthew’s office. Note also that gray drill press. Thats a mid-20th century beast that Matthew rescued from the dumpster.

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The next room holds a nice big optical bench (yep, another item slated for disposal). That model on the bench is a 3D print of the Sofia Telescope (Stratospheric Observatory for Infared Astronomy). The model is about 10 years old and predates the Makerbot era of inexpensive printing. Even today that large a print would be quite an undertaking. Beyond that room is the electronics and vinyl cutter room. More surplus benches gathered from around the Ames campus.

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Matthew has found a fair bit of great maker stuff there at Ames. Check out this gear drawer!

Draw of random gears at NASA Ames

We will ignore the copy/printing center that is also upstairs. It looks sorta like a FedEx Office. Nothing really awe inspiring there. (no offense to the hardworking people there.)

Downstairs… OMG. this is where amazing stuff has been built in decades past. Scroll back up and take a look at that panoramic shot at the top. (or check out the full size image by clicking HERE) This has to be the biggest collection of high end CNC machines, lathes, milling machines, grinders etc I have ever seen. Many of them are solid cast iron beasts that are probably as old as I am (or older). That big blue Cincinnati on the right (and below) was the first 3 axis CNC mill on the west coast (of mainland usa). It is BIG. Zoom in on the panoram and look down the aisle of CNC machines on the left. There is a machinist sitting in from to the last one – that gives you some sense of scale of these machines.

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That panoram was of one side of the downstairs shop. I could not get a good panoram of the other side so here are some separate pics. It appears to be mostly manual machines with DRO (digital read outs). Note that some of those lathes are outfitted with microscopes. Microscopes on a lathe!!!

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There are a few more pictures in the Flickr Set.

It is very impressive to me that NASA has built a makerspace on one of its campus. There is perhaps a bit of a disconnect perhaps between the Maker DIY culture and the machine shop on premises of the past. The old style was that you gave the basic design to a highly skilled machinist who fabricated the part for you. A makerspace, on the otherhand, expects you to make the parts yourself. It remains to be seen whether this will work for NASA. There are unfortunately not that many people left that are skilled in running the downstairs machines … and also a bit sad that there was so little activity there.

About Jerry

Founder of MauiMakers. Previously 30+ yrs as software engineer in bleeding edge tech such as UNIX(1978+), Computer Animation, Multimedia, Virtual Reality, Games, Location Based Entertainment, Military C4I, DARPA Research, etc. Thought FabLab was great new thing, so learned machine shop tech and moved to Maui to start one.

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