3D-Printed Food - © shapeways.com

‘Star Trek’ food replicator one step nearer

“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”

Sorry, Captain Picard – not just yet. But NASA has bestowed a $125,000 grant upon Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC), of Austin, Texas, to build a prototype of its ‘3D Food Printer’ which could be used to ‘print’ earth-like food for astronauts on long space voyages – say, to Mars.

3D-Printed Food - © shapeways.comInfinte pleaseure? For bacon lovers, yes. The perfect burger topper –
a prototype infinite loop of 3D printed ‘bacon’ from Cornell
Fab@Home project.

You’ve probably heard of 3D Printers – devices that produce solid, 3D objects from computer data by building up later after layer of plastic.

So… What happens if you replace the plastic with protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and fibre and and other essential components that make up the foods we eat here on Earth every day… and use them to ‘print’ space food?

SMRC has started off small for NASA officials printing piece of ‘chocolate’ as proof of concept.

Next, they’ll try a pizza, starting off by printing a layer of crust first (carbs, water, oil, salt), then a layer of ‘tomato sauce’ (tomato powder, water, oil, spices). But that’s where the system starts to break down. Rather than  printing facsimiles of traditional pizza toppings, the machine will fabricate patches of various protein mixtures. And – most disappointing of all – no mention in the plan at all of anything even remotely cheese-like. on the up side, the system’s source materials have a thirty-year shelf life if not exposed to air or moisture.

SMRC representative Anjan Contractor says, “I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently. So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.”

I, for one, am not ready to give in on that account yet. And I won’t be signing up for a trip to Mars. Not without cheese, anyway!

~ Maggie J.