NASA may take 3D-printed food to space

24 May 2013

Three-dimensional (3D) printed food would end worldwide hunger, cut waste, feed soldiers in battle, and provide astronauts in orbit with a more varied diet. The concept has sparked the interest of US space agency NASA so much so that it is investing US$125,000 for Systems and Materials Research Corporation to build a prototype system.

Systems and Materials Research Corporation had given NASA a demonstration of a food-based 3D printer making a chocolate pastry. The demo resulted in a six-month, US$125,000 grant for the company to build a prototype system.

The substrate the printer uses is what has whetted NASA’s appetite. For instance, the printer may include a tube filled with sugar, one filled with protein powder, and others filled with, say dried fruits and flavouring ingredients, GCN reported. What’s more, stored under the right conditions, the materials could last for 30 years.

NASA’s proposal summary said the idea is to “test a complete nutritional system for long-duration missions beyond low Earth orbit”. This could include a manned mission to Mars one day, according to GCN.

NASA also said the military could use a 3D food printer to provide optimal nutrition to soldiers at war, while reducing waste and logistical challenges.

One food item NASA is already eyeballing is pizza, because it’s made in layers and therefore ideal for printing.

On a larger scale, NASA and Anjan Contractor, owner of  Systems and Materials Research Corporation, envision 3D food printers being used to help end hunger around the world.

In its summary notes, NASA said the effective 3D printing of food, “may avoid food shortage, inflation, starvation, famine and even food wars.”

Food technology image via Shutterstock

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic