Creating hope among astronauts of yummy future food choices, NASA has allocated $125,000 to Anjan Contractor of Texas to develop a 3D printer that will print actual food. The new innovation would increase food choices that astronauts on the International Space Station and other manned missions, including a future trip to Mars, have when they are in space.
The difficulty with sending astronauts different foods in space is that they must have a long shelf life since it is not possible to restock very often. For the most part, food must have a shelf life of 17 years to be sent into space. Contractor’s printer would solve this problem by putting the ingredients and nutrients into powdered form, he explained to Quartz. By doing so, he would be able to increase the shelf life of the food to approximately 30 years.
The grant is part of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program and is good for six months, during which time Contractor will build the printer and test it. Contractor’s company has already proven that they can print the chocolate chips onto a cookie, so the theory is ready for application, GuardianLV.com reports.
The printer would squeeze ingredients out of tubes and layer them, a slightly different process than most 3D printers currently in development. When printing a pizza, Contractor envisions that first the dough would print, and while it was rising and cooking the other ingredients would be printed to be added to the pizza.
It might seem like science fiction, but real food has already been printed from 3D printers. Last month, scientists in the Netherlands printed a burger, at a whopping price tag of $325,000. The price tag must be much lower for the printer to gain in popularity, but Contractor thinks that will eventually be the case.
While NASA’s use of the 3D printer will be beneficial to astronauts, Contractor imagines a 3D printer in every home. The tubes of nutrients would ensure that people got all the required daily nutrients as well as practically eliminate food waste because of their long shelf life. Contractor plans to eventually turn his 3D printer plans into a design which he will license to businesses who want to use and/or market the printers. 3D printing would allow people to received personalized nutrition and even send recipes across the country to other people’s printers. If it doesn’t sound appetizing, Contractor cautions that a day will come when the Earth is unable to support its growing population. When that day comes, printed food could sustain the population by providing nutritional needs.