In preparation for Star Trek: Into Darkness, we have been rewatching all of the old Next Generation episodes. One of the series’ most memorable moments is when a crew member casually walks over to a replicator and orders up dinner. Pudding, Klingon delicacies, and yes, even Picard’s “tea, Earl Grey, hot” is just a millisecond away. Now, NASA has announced that it will provide a $125,000 grant to a young mechanical engineer who’s working on a 3D printer that could (almost) do the same thing.
The talented designer is Anjan Contractor and the idea is a prototype 3D printer that could automate food creation in space, and eventually, here on Earth as well.
Here’s how The Verge explains it: “the concept is to use basic “building blocks” of food in replaceable powder cartridges. By combining each block, a wide range of foods should be able to be created by the printer. The cartridges will have a lifespan of 30 years, more than long enough to enable long-distance space travel. After proving his system works on a basic level by printing chocolate, Contractor will start his project within the next few weeks by attempting to print a pizza.”
Nothing says America like choosing pizza for the first 3D printed meal, but if Contractor is successful, it could mean an upward trend in nutritional density while also reducing food waste. “The powder his system will use is shelf-stable for up to 30 years, so that each cartridge, whether it contains sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein or some other basic building block, would be fully exhausted before being returned to the store,” points out Quartz.
If, as the UN has suggested, we all have to start eating bugs in the next few years, Contractor’s “replicator” might be a great way to make insect protein look and taste like the foods we’re used to.