NASA Investing in 3-D Food Printer for Astronauts

NEW YORK | Monday, May 27th, 2013 6:18pm EDT

NASA is funding research into 3D-printed food by awarding a $125,000 grant to Anjan Contractor, head of Systems & Materials Research Corporation, to develop a 3D food printer.

NASA Investing in 3 D Food Printer for Astronauts 01

The initial plan is to work with NASA and the astronauts and then as things become commercially viable, we will definitely consider weight loss and weight gain.Photo: Spamily/Flickr

In the movie “In Star Trek: The Next Generation” food replicators were first  introduced as devices capable of fiddling with reality at the subatomic level to reproduce everything edible, from steaks to snacks to steaming cups of tea. In real world such devices probably couldn’t exist, if only 3D food printers might make it real.

Systems and Materials Research Corporation of Austin, Texas is developing a 3-D food printer for astronauts to create custom meals on the fly.

NASA seems to be extremely interested in the project as it invested $125,000 in the company just to make a pizza.

“This project is to demonstrate we can create and change the nutrition of the food and be able to print it in a low-gravity environment,” the company’s research director and lead chemist, David Irvin, told Reuters.

It’s hoped the system could provide astronauts food during long-distance space travel.

“Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life,” said the contractor. “The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.”

However, its creator has the loftier aim of solving the increasing food shortages around the world by cutting down on waste.

Plans for food printers also can feed a burgeoning world population that is estimated to reach 12 billion by the end of the century. The technology also has implications for the military, if the military accepts the technology of 3-D printed food.

One goal of 3-D food is to reduce military logistics and disposal waste. If there’s a war, all focus probably will be on efficiency and mission effectiveness.

And as far as nutrition for health, the 3-D printed food is supposed to provide optimal nutrient to the soldiers depending on their personal needs and level of physical activities. Besides military and space travel uses, 3-D printed food could also be used for travelers and those in transit, says Examiner.

“The biggest advantage of 3-D printed food technology will be zero waste, which is essential in long-distance space missions,” the company wrote in its proposal to NASA.

Systems and Materials intends to create nutritionally rich, aesthetically appealing and tasty synthetic food by combining powdered proteins, starches, fats and flavors with water or oil to produce a wide array of digital recipes.

“The 3-D printing system will provide hot and quick food in addition to personalized nutrition, flavor and taste,” it said

The software for the printer will be open-source, while the hardware is based on the open-source RepRap Mendel 3D printer.

The concept will use building blocks in replaceable powder cartridges that when combined, creates different combinations of food types.

It works by first ‘printing’ a layer of dough, which is baked at the same time by a heated plate at the bottom of the machine. It then lays down a tomato base, “which is also stored in a powdered form, and then mixed with water and oil,”says contractor.

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