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Feeding the Final Frontier: 3-D Printers Could Make Astronaut Meals #3dthursday

ShuttlePrintedFood

From WIRED Science:

With 3-D printers coming of age, engineers are starting to expand the possible list of materials they might work with. The early work in food has been in making desserts – a Japanese company lets you order your sweetheart a creepy chocolate 3-D model of their head – but some researchers are already thinking of what comes next. The [email protected] team at Cornell University has developed gel-like substances called hydrocolloids that can be extruded and built up into different shapes. By mixing in flavoring agents, they can produce a range of tastes and textures.

The ability to 3-D print meals could be particularly handy on long-duration space missions, said Terfansky. Food is a basic source of comfort to humans, who would be dealing with a high-stress environment during a trip to an asteroid or Mars. Monotony will be a major challenge for such endeavors and the ability to provide variety and change in diet could be key. Having a family member back on Earth be able to design a special meal for an astronaut, beam it to their spaceship, and have it prepared in space might help travelers deal with distance and loneliness.

A 3-D printer could mix vitamins and amino acids into a meal to provide nutrients and boost productivity. There are limitations to the types of fresh foods that can be grown in space – NASA says some of the best crops for a Mars mission are lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. With that you could make a salad, but a 3-D printer could manufacture croutons or protein-dense supplements. The device could take up less space than a supply of packets of food and, because each item is custom built, would help cut down on waste.

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