NASA decided to spend $125,000 on a project which will allow astronauts to eat pizza during their missions. While some people might ask themselves why the agency chose pizza, the answer walks hand in hand with this product’s user-friendly attributes. When Quartz broke the news that the agency offered a grant to Systems & Materials Research Corporation to build a prototype of a 3D food printer in only six months, the natural question was related to the type of food the company would make, but pizza proved to be a handy meal thanks to the fact that it can be printed in different layers.
NASA is going to spend $125,000 on a pizza printer designed by Anjan Contractor, a mechanical engineer at the company hired to feed astronauts with pizza. Contractor’s proposal shows that although the pizza printer is still in phase one, it could revolutionize astronauts’ meals. According to NASA’s Advanced Food Technology Project, space flight crews must be provided with nutritious, safe and acceptable food, which is important not only because it offers nutrition, but also because it increases the psychological well-being of the crew thanks to the feeling of a familiar environment.
For this reason, the printer which spits out proteins and fats, texture and structure, smell, flavor and micronutrients has led NASA to believe that the pizza printer might be a doable way to offer astronauts a meal that will eliminate the need to go to the International Space Station for supply, especially if longer missions are in plan. The mechanism first “prints” a layer of dough, which is baked while printed with the help of a heated plate placed at the bottom of the printer. Then, the machine spreads a layer of tomato base which is kept in a powdered form and afterwards mixed with water and oil and the topping provides a “protein layer” that could come from sources like milk, animals or plants.
NASA has decided to spend $125,000 on a pizza printer in order to revolutionize the astronauts’ meal. Nowadays, all their foods are either thermostabilized or freeze-dried and prepackaged in order to be eaten in microgravity. Among astronauts, shrimp cocktails and beef brisket are reportedly the most popular options. Grace Douglas, Advanced Food Technology Project Scientist at NASA stated that food needs to have a five-year shelf life, but it is also important to “maintain its nutrition content for the length of the mission, and it has to be acceptable.” For this reason, 3D printed food seems like a valid option and keeping the ingredients in powdered form is preferred thanks to the fact that it is minimally processed, therefore it is tastier and has more nutrients.
Although Contractor convinced NASA to grant him the project with the help of a chocolate printer he designed, the only problem the printer which features cartridges full of oils and powders has is that it probably wouldn’t work well in microgravity. Nonetheless, Douglas mentioned that the project is “at a preliminary level” and “it could be years until it becomes feasible.” Meanwhile, Contractor believes that his pizza printer could be used not only by NASA, but also by people on Earth. Taking into consideration that the world population could reach 12 billion by the end of the century, a machine which “prints” food would solve problems like food shortage, famine, inflation, and starvation.
Irrespective of the context in which the pizza printer will be used, NASA has made its first step towards solving the problem Douglas mentioned, namely that astronauts should be offered acceptable, even tasty food and although the agency spent $125,000 on pizza, the grant could prove to be an investment if Contractor succeeds in “printing” food.
By Gabriela Motroc