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3D print space probes and asteroids, courtesy of NASA

NASA has released STL files so you can 3D print your own scale models of space probes, asteroids and the surface of the moon.

Model of Mars' Gale crater. NASA

It turns out that a decontextualised asteroid looks a lot like a Kipfler potato -- although we're not entirely sure that's the takeaway intended from a recent release by NASA. The space agency has made a whole bunch of files available for free so that you can 3D print your own space stuff.

Included in the 21 objects available to print are a number of probes, including the Kepler, the Mars Odyssey, the Rosetta and the Voyager, as well as two asteroids -- Eros and Itokawa -- and 3D models of sections of the surfaces of the Moon and Mars, the latter including the Gale Crater, where Curiosity trundles about its business.

The database and the objects it contains are works in progress. The probe files, for instance, were created by scaling the original craft and converting directly to STL, which means some of the finer details may be too difficult for a standard 3D printer to handle. This means they may need a bit of tweaking, which you are welcome to do yourself -- and NASA has also invited users to share their edits and experiences.

The page also contains images and textures that enterprising 3D artists can use as resources; and a bunch of interactive pages and games so that you can learn more about NASA's operations -- by having a go at doing some for yourself.

Each 3D model has been scaled down to 4 inches (10cm) in the longest dimension, making them great little desktop decorations and learning tools. Head over to the NASA 3D Resources beta page to start printing and experimenting for yourself.