NASA has allocated funds for a new project in the form of $125,000 to Anjan Contractor to create a 3D printer that will make pizza for astronauts bored of freeze-dried ice cream and Tang. The 3D printers will be perfect for astronauts at the International Space Station or whenever we one day decide to send men on a mission to Mars.
One of the major complaints that past astronauts have had about their experiences in space is the utter boredom of eating the same types of food day after day, week after week, ad naseum.
However, one of the problems that NASA faced was that the regular sorts of food we eat on Earth face spoilage over time. In space, the shelf life of food needs to be really, really long.
Trekkies, NASA might be a step closer to the sort of food replicators that Captain Picard might be proud of using. They have solved the problem of food spoilage by allocating the necessary funds to Anjan Contractor of Texas to come up with a type of 3D printer that can not only make delicious pizza, but also will be able to make more exotic fair, such as dosas and chapattis.
NASA’s grant is part of its Small Business Innovation Research program. The Phase 1 contract is worth $125,000 for the six-month study.
Mechanical engineer Anjan Contractor, 34, has already demonstrated that his company, can already print the chocolate chips onto a cookie.
Printing a pizza would be done in stages. Anjan first plans on printing out the dough and letting it cook while the sauce and toppings then print.
The 3D printer will take the components of the pizza and fabricate the toppings from them. It will combine various powders and oils to create foodstuffs with a similar structure, taste, snell and nutrition of the real thing.
“The way we are working on it is,” according to Contractor, “all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form.”
He added: “We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.”
Contractor hopes to use the money from NASA to build the food-printing device by the end of the year.
Cornell, in 2011, created a printer that prints chocolate, cheese, scallops, celery, even turkey. Their food is not made by using the layer-by-layer fabrication method that has come to define 3D printers. Instead, ingredients squeezed out of tubes are layered.
Just last month a scientist in the Netherlands printed an entire burger. The expensive price tag of $325,000 will ensure that you will not likely see them being sold at your local McDonald’s or Burger King anytime soon.
Eventually, we will be able to use this technology in our homes.
Someday soon, perhaps, we can utilize 3D food printers to print out long distance transmission of digital recipes. Then, Mom can “cook” you your spaghetti just the way you like it if you’re across town from her or across thousands of miles of space headed to Mars.
NASA’s manned mission to Mars will be ready for lift-off in a couple of decades. They plan to send a human mission to Mars by the 2030’s. Pepperoni pizza, dosas and chapattis could be on the in-flight menu, thanks to Indian-American engineer Anjan Contractor.
On America’s initial space programs, Mercury and Gemini, crew members were provided cold food in tubes, according to Grace Douglas, a food technology scientist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Hot water and the ability to heat foods were introduced in the subsequent Apollo and space shuttle missions.
NASA currently provides its astronauts with around 200 food and drink options. However, they are all thermally processed, irradiated or dried to prevent food spoilage at ambient temperature storage, as refrigeration and freezing are unavailable due to constraints of storage, weight and power on space vehicles.
Crew members do not have access to fresh foods, and without gravity they can’t customize foods beyond the addition of basic condiments. The astronauts have commented that they miss the fresh textures and flavors of food at home.
The 3D food printer project proposed by Contractor and his colleagues and funded by NASA will be ready to use one day at the International Space Station, on fights to Mars, and even in the comfort of your homes. Avoid the rush; put in your orders today!
Written by: Douglas Cobb