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Uploaded 02/16/2016

From Science Fiction to Science Fact: Take the Star Trek Replicator Challenge

For Star Trek fans who have ever dreamed of asking for “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot” and having a replicator deliver it, now’s the chance. The American Society for Mechanical Engineers Foundation, working with NASA and Star Trek, is asking the next generation of astronauts and Starfleet cadets to engineer the future of food production in space through the third ‘Future Engineers’ challenge aimed to educate students K-12 about 3-D printing and engineering design.

The Star Trek Replicator Challenge, which launched at a Kids’ Week event at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York, runs through May 1. Students can learn more about how to enter at

The challenge asks students to help astronauts live long and prosper on future deep space explorations missions by designing 3-D printed designs that will help crews eat nutritious meals in the year 2050. Examples of possible designs include hardware needed to grow and harvest plants, and hardware needed to prepare, eat, and dispose of food.

“Sustainability will be a critical aspect of long duration space missions and will require off-planet manufacturing technologies to create all of the items our future astronauts need,” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s in-space manufacturing manager.

The replicator used throughout the Star Trek franchise has long been a concept of science fiction, but 3-D printing in space has recently becoming 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 to store it in. 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 of the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Intrepid Museum with an astronaut, a 3-D printer for the winners’ schools or a Star Trek prize pack.

Past Future Engineer challenge winners created 3-D printed tools, a ClipCatch container for nail clippings, and a Flower Tea Cage.

(c)2016 ASME | NASA | SCVTV
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