When a new technology is introduced, it takes awhile for it to reach its full potential. Something like chewing gum, created roughly 5,000 years ago, didn't really find its true way until the last few decades. The hammer, the first of which dates back to 2.4 million years ago, probably reached its culmination only hundreds years ago. The automobile's still probably a few hundred years from finally being able to run on garbage and fly.
But the 3-D printer, a machine that "prints" three-dimensional objects, first invented in only 1981, may be but a few short months away from peaking entirely. No, not because of the newly-discovered possibility that criminals can use it to manufacture pieces for their own workable guns, skirting all kinds of laws and safety regulations. That's the down side of technology. The 3-D printer is at its near-apex because, if NASA has its way, soon space travelers to Mars will be able to print their own pizza pies.
Things don't get much cooler than that.
NASA is giving $125,000 of their own money to engineer Anjan Contractor -- pretty much the coolest name ever for an engineer -- who will get the full sum if, in six months, he comes up with a sample version of the 3-D printer that will be able to create food. NASA is so interested in getting the technology up and running because of the inherent culinary limitations that come with space travel.
Traveling as far as Mars, astronauts would need food that has "15-plus years of shelf life," which is where you get into the necessity of those freeze-dried meals. The problem with those are that they are heavily processed and leave much to be desired in the way of nutrients. But with an actual food 3-D printer, the various elements used to print ("ink," if you will) can be stored in powder form, inserted into the printer, and recombined to form an actual food that has the necessary nutrition for those making the journey.
While everyone knows that pizza was chosen as the first printed "space food" because, clearly, all astronauts are stoners by heart -- the second reason being that they were making a sly reference to the song "That's Amore" -- the "official" one they're going with is that the organization of a pizza is a perfect match for the 3-D printer:
With the aid of a "digital recipe" the printer combines powders from various flavor cartridges with water and oil in the machine's mixing chamber. The mixtures then feed into a system of valves, and each "layer" is squeezed out individually: in the pizza's case, the crust comes out first, followed by the sauce, cheese, and protein.
But the benefits of this new tech are not to be relegated only to outside our planet's atmosphere. Like pretty much every other invention that's ever come out of NASA over the years, what works for space can work even better down here at home. The 3-D food printer could be a solution to all sorts of problems, everything from adding shelf life to a more fanciful future that resembles something out of "Back to the Future Part II":
"If you're male, female - they all have different dietary needs. If you can program your needs into a 3-D printer, it can print exactly the nutrients that person requires."
"Personalized meals." Now, that would be an interesting solution to the current problem plaguing us regarding incorrectly-labeled products. Just put in the exact ingredients that you want, press the button, and out it'll come.