Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Replicators near reality, as NASA announces first 3D-printed 'space pizza'

 photo Enterprise.jpg
Replicators -- which on "Star Trek" can be used to generate food as well as other objects -- are strictly out of science fiction, right? Perhaps not, if NASA has its way. On Tuesday, the space agency announced it had created a 3D-printed pizza.

Normal 3D-printed objects are created out of plastic. Obviously, this was not.

The pizza was the result of research being done by the Austin, Texas-based company Systems and Materials Research Consultancy (SMRC). Also this week, NASA said that it had awarded the company $125,000 for the phase I portion of the project.

In a statement, NASA said:
The current food system wouldn't meet the nutritional needs and five-year shelf life required for a mission to Mars or other long duration missions. Because refrigeration and freezing require significant spacecraft resources, current NASA provisions consist solely of individually prepackaged shelf stable foods, processed with technologies that degrade the micronutrients in the foods.

Additionally, the current space food is selected before astronauts ever leave the ground and crew members don't have the ability to personalize recipes or really prepare foods themselves. Over long duration missions, a variety of acceptable food is critical to ensure crew members continue to eat adequate amounts of food, and consequently, get the nutrients they need to maintain their health and performance.
Phase I is expected to last six months. The project could be extended into a second phase, but NASA officials warned that the technology is still years away from being tested on an actual flight.

Anjan Contractor, a senior mechanical engineer at SMRC, said:
The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.
NASA added that 3D-printing could be used for other things, as on "Star Trek," which uses replicators to create spare parts and even uniforms.

3D printers have been in the news a lot of late, not all it of positive. Doctors reported last week that they used a 3D printer to save a baby's life by printing an airway tube.

However, also last week, it was revealed that a Department of Homeland Security bulletin warned that the manufacture of 3D-printed guns may be impossible to halt, and that the guns themselves may prove impossible to detect.

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