NASA may be planning to use 3D printers to create space food and build lunar habitats, but the China National Space Administration (CNSA) has been sending astronauts into orbit with 3D printed seats for the last ten years.
China's first manned spaceflight was in 2003 and each of their launches included customized 3D printed seats to protect the astronauts from the stress of launch. Professor Cui Guoqi, director of the Rapid Prototyping Research Center in Tianjin University is the man behind the specialized seats. He began working with the idea in 1998 and has updated his seat designs over the years to keep pace with technological advancements.
"We collect physical data from astronaut candidates, like the measurements of their space suits, but the seats require much more data than the suits. This data will then form a 3D model in the computer," said Prof. Guoqi.
Goqui also said they have recently increased the 3D measurements from 800,000 pixels to 2,000,000 pixels. "With more precise data, the seat will be better fitting and able to defuse more impact."
The 3D printed seats are made from a 70mm thick composite material and feature a cradle-shaped design. Because they are tailored to the individual astronauts, each seat takes about three months to create.
"During launch and landing these specially designed seats… protect the astronauts, especially their backbones, from being hurt by the jolt during acceleration," said Guoqi. "Every seat [is] tested by the astronaut in person and undergo[s] adjustments to make it more precise."
Earlier this month three Chinese astronauts were launched into space aboard a Long March 2F rocket. You can view the launch here: