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May 22, 2013

Future Astronauts Could Print Food

by Matthew Hilburn

Astronauts on future missions to Mars may be able to dial up a pizza via a 3D printer.

NASA announced it awarded a $125,000 grant to Systems & Materials Research Corporation’s Anjan Contractor, who has already designed the printer.

The head of the printer will be fed with a combination of nutrients, water, oils and flavors, which can be sprayed, layer by layer to create three dimensional food.

The base ingredients could have a shelf life of up to 30 years.

The first test: printing a pizza.

According to a proposal posted on the NASA website in March, “the 3D printing component will deliver macronutrients [starch, protein, and fat], structure, and texture while the ink jet will deliver micronutrients, flavor, and smell.”

“Using unflavored macronutrients, such as protein, starch and fat, the sustenance portion of the diet can be rapidly produced in a variety of shapes and textures directly from the 3D printer [already warm],” according to the proposal.

The biggest advantage to 3D food printing, NASA says, is that there is no waste.

According to the NASA proposal, printing food could have applications beyond space.

Citing projections of the world’s population reaching 12 billion by the end of the century, NASA said “current infrastructure of food production and supply will not be able to meet the demand of such a large population.”

“By exploring and implementing technologies such as 3D printing, this may avoid food shortage, inflation, starvation, famine and even food wars,” reads the proposal.

NASA said the military could also benefit from 3D food technology because it would “reduce military logistics, disposal waste, increase operational efficiency and mission effectiveness especially during wartime.”

Furthermore, submarines and aircraft carriers could benefit from lowered downtime to refill supplies.