Tags: 3-D | printing | food | NASA

NASA Researching 3-D Food Printing for Space Trips

Friday, 24 May 2013 11:59 AM

By John Morgan

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Yum! Please pass the cricket pizza with the algae topping!

NASA has awarded a grant to a mechanical engineering whiz to covert his scientific acumen to a more epicurean pursuit — a 3-D printer that will spit out nutritional meals one layer at a time.

Anjan Contractor, head of Systems & Materials Research Corp., told Quartz his technology would mean the end of food waste because the powders in his cartridges — containing sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein and perhaps other substances — would last for 30 years.

Editor's Note: Startling Proof of the End of America’s Middle Class. Details in the Video

"I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can't supply 12 billion people sufficiently," said Contractor of the peak global population expected at the end of the century.

"So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food."

But Contractor's adventure in molecular gastronomy is first aimed at printing food for astronauts on very long space missions.

Pizza is a natural candidate for 3-D printing because it can extrude one layer at a time, he said. His "food synthesizer" device would first print a layer of dough that would be baked at the same time it printed by a heated plate at the bottom of the printer, followed by a tomato base retrieved from powdered form and mixed with water and oil.

And then — voila! — the piece de resistance: a protein layer that could come from many sources, including animals, milk or plants.

Dutch think tank TNO Research said the ingredients for Contractor's 3-D food printer could include algae, duckweed, grass, lupine seeds, beet leaves and insects, just to name a delectable few.

Contactor said he will keep the software portion of his 3-D printer entirely open source, and it will be possible for people to trade their favorite recipes. (Perhaps Aunt Ida's mealworm muffins will finally get the audience they deserve.)

"One of the major advantages of a 3-D printer is that it provides personalized nutrition," Contractor told Quartz. "If you're male, female, someone is sick — they all have different dietary needs. If you can program your needs into a 3-D printer, it can print exactly the nutrients that person requires."

NASA is also actively researching how to farm on Mars and in space in preparation for the first manned Mars landing targeted for the mid-2030s, Space.com reported.

The mission may need to be of long duration because of the difficulties getting there and the benefits of an extended stay, according to NASA.

Scientists are researching whether plants can survive under lower pressures than on Earth, because the more pressure inside a greenhouse, the larger a greenhouse must be to contain it.

"Gardening in a pressure suit is going to be a real trick," Taber MacCallum, CEO of Paragon Space Development Corp., told Space.com.

Editor's Note: Startling Proof of the End of America’s Middle Class. Details in the Video

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