The promising possibilities of 3D printing have extended from rapid prototyping of new products and home manufacturing to the realm of space travel. NASA recently provided a Small Business Innovation Research contract to Anjan Contractor, a mechanical engineer who has been testing the feasibility of using 3D printed food to keep astronauts on long-haul missions fed and healthy.
The first meal in the planning is a 3D printed pizza. Using powdered ingredients with shelf lives of up to 30 years, the 3D printer will lay down a base of dough first which will be instantly baked by a heated plate. The tomato sauce comes next – a powder mixed with water and oil. The final layer is a “protein layer,” which could be made of material obtained from plants, animals or even insects. Apparently, in space, no one can hear you scream for cheese and pepperoni.
Contractor is using the open-source Rep Rap Mendel 3D printer as the basis for his project. The above video is one of his food-printing trials, laying a layer of chocolate onto a cookie. The software he develops will be open-source as well. The food cartridges he creates will have to comply with NASA’s guidelines for meeting astronauts’ nutritional needs for extremely long journeys, such as manned trips to Mars. There’s no telling whether the creations will actually taste like food, but they’ll at least provide the nutrients to keep future space explorers alive on their missions.