Every Star Trek fan has dreamt of asking for “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot” -- and having a replicator deliver it. Well, now’s your chance. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation, working with NASA and Star Trek, is inviting the next generation of astronauts and Starfleet cadets to engineer the future of food production in space through the third “Future Engineers” challenge aimed at educating students K-12 about 3-D printing and engineering design.
“Sustainability will be a critical aspect of long duration space missions,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s in-space manufacturing manager, “and will require off-planet manufacturing technologies to create all of the items our future astronauts need.”
The replicator used throughout the Star Trek franchise has long been a science fiction concept, but 3-D printing in space has recently become science fact. NASA sent the first 3-D printer to the International Space Station in 2014 and astronauts have successfully printed 21 plastic tools, containers and test samples.
For NASA, developing food production technologies for space means planning well beyond a single cup of hot tea. For example, it might include manufacturing items such as the teacups themselves in addition to creating pots for growing tea and containers in which to store it. NASA is incorporating innovative ideas for sustainable exploration into the agency’s exploration mission roadmap in order to become truly earth-independent on our journey to Mars.
Student winners will receive a range of prizes, including a trip to New York for a tour – with an astronaut -- of the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Museum, a 3-D printer for the winners’ schools or a Star Trek prize pack.
Past Future Engineer challenge winners created 3-D printed tools and a ClipCatch container for nail clippings, as well as a Flower Tea Cage.
Again, visit http://www.FutureEngineers.org/StarTrek to enter.