“The pizza is actually just a way to demonstrate something solid at the bottom, something doughy in the middle and something meatlike at the top,” Irvin said.
Theoretically, homesick astronauts could even get a care package from Mom: The printer would have the ability to communicate with Earth and receive personalized instructions, or ‘recipes,’ the company said.
“Mom designs a cookie in a computer, sends the cookie to the space shuttle and the son or daughter prints out a cookie at Christmas,” Contractor said in his presentation.
NASA said the proposal is intriguing in part because it could save weight on a spacecraft, and also because such technology could be used to make other objects, such as tools.
The use of 3-D printers to make food is not a new idea. In 2011, Cornell University designed a printer that could create food using pastes moving through a syringe.
A Dutch research company, TNO, floated the idea that 3-D printers could use several forms of organic life as a protein component — algae, grass or even insects.
SMRC said part of its motivation for seeking the NASA grant is to pursue the even loftier goal of fighting world hunger.
At his Washington presentation, Contractor said printed food could increase the efficiency of food systems on Earth by eliminating waste and making it easier to store and transport nutritional ingredients. The company also envisions printing food for military use, which could cut down on supply runs.
But experts caution against viewing technology as the answer to the world’s nutritional issues.
“There isn’t some silver-bullet technology that’s going to solve hunger problems,” said Gawain Kripke, policy director for food security and hunger at Oxfam America. The idea behind the technology is welcome, he said, but is unlikely to have an impact in the near-term.
“What’s more likely to have an impact is simpler technology, such as access to tractors and seeds,” he said.