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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Dec 2014
A pizza delivery in place
Anirudh Bhattacharyya, Hindustan Times
May 31, 2013
First Published: 21:22 IST(31/5/2013)
Last Updated: 00:49 IST(1/6/2013)

In case you missed it, an India-born technologist has plans to prepare pizza for Mars.

Anjan Contractor, of the Austin, Texas-based Systems & Materials Research Corporation, has bagged a $125,000 grant from Nasa to develop a ‘universal food synthesizer’. In other words, a 3D printer that will roll out pizzas on demand for Mars-bound astronauts. If the prototype works, they may resolve a major quandary facing humans (and pizza chains everywhere): How to deliver that pie piping hot within 30 minutes.

The website Quartz quoted Contractor as saying, “Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life. The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.” The prototype for that pizza-tossing gadget was another creating a major staple — a chocolate  printer.

Mars is pretty hot right now. Not literally since the Red Planet’s minimum temperature can plummet to lows below – 140 Celsius, slightly warmer than the relationship between the Obama administration and the US House of Representatives. But everyone seems to be planning a Mars expedition. India’s Mangalyaan is projected for this winter. There’s intense focus on a manned mission to Mars. The Russians want a shot at the fourth rock from the Sun, as does the European Space Agency and even Nasa, which with its budget cuts is going nowhere fast.

In fact, the last time Nasa had astronauts walking another world was during the presidency of Richard Nixon. Now, the current president, Barack Obama, may appear the second coming of Nixon when it comes to systematically targeting his political opposition, but the way Nasa’s been gutted, it would be difficult for it to achieve liftoff. The scrapped space shuttle programme, for instance, ended with the fleet flying over such distant destinations like Hollywood, possibly so that Nasa could study the somewhat alien heavenly bodies there.

Alternatively, the cash-strapped agency could save plenty of money by photoshopping in future expeditions like the Iranians did earlier this year, after claiming to have launched a monkey into space.

Though Nasa’s efforts may be forced on the backburner, that hasn’t quite stifled enthusiasm for having people partake of pizza on Mars.

A recent Humans2Mars conference, for example, featured a constellation of celebrities. Among them was Vint Cerf, the Internet guru. Cerf, of course, was responsible for commercial email. There are unconfirmed reports he was also the first to receive an email, a business proposal from a Nigerian philanthropist offering him millions of dollars. Also featured was Buzz Aldrin, the second person to do the moonwalk. And Dennis Tito, the former Nasa aerospace engineer turned billionaire investment manager. Tito, the first space tourist, is leading the privately-funded Inspiration Mars Foundation that has the objective to sending a two-person crew in January 2018 for a 501-day return journey that will take its craft to the vicinity of Mars. Meanwhile, the Dutch non-profit Mars One, received over 75,000 applications to be part of a one-way trip to colonise Mars. That part of the Mars to Stay paradigm proposed by many including Aldrin about permanent human settlements on Mars. Given the sort of cuisine that may be on offer to the space pioneers, there may finally be green men, and women, on Mars.

Nasa, meanwhile, is looking for stepping stones to Mars, that may involve capturing an asteroid to serve as a base. Despite calling such a mission a “priority”, no sentient being predicts a successful Nasa venture for at least another two decades. Though for the Tumblr generation, Nasa may have already delivered, as one its images of the tracks made by Mars rovers resembling male genitalia went viral.

The pizza may be ready well in advance of the order for spatial delivery. For now, humans getting to Mars is still pretty much a pie in the sky.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years

The views expressed by the author are personal


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