Drinking Coffee in space!
With their peculiar sleep cycles and demanding scientific itineraries, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) could arguably benefit from a rejuvenating cup of coffee more than most. However, the reality of space travel means that the usual comforting brew is replaced by a more pragmatic ‘drink in a bag’ solution.
In an effort to replicate the earthly comforts and add a touch of normalcy to the lives of those in orbit, ingenious minds from Portland State University have designed a unique coffee cup that can be used in the zero-gravity conditions of space.
The cup's design is a far cry from your average mug, featuring specially sculpted sides and wings. These are not just for aesthetic appeal; they are meticulously engineered to guide the liquid towards the mouth, using the combined forces of capillary action and surface tension. This innovation allows astronauts to enjoy their coffee without it floating away in the cabin, potentially causing a microgravity muddle.
This space cup can even be 3D printed right aboard the ISS, obviating the need to use precious cargo space to bring them from Earth. The peculiar angles and contours of the cup ensure that the coffee moves in a controlled manner, providing a semblance of the coffee-drinking experience here on Earth, even though the vessel might resemble something akin to a child’s toy rather than a traditional cup.
At an estimated $500 per cup, it's not a drop in the ocean, but considering there's a bespoke espresso machine on the ISS, capable of delivering coffee in a pouch and designed to function in low gravity, it's an investment in the astronaut's quality of life.
The ISSpresso machine, a product of Italian innovation, brought not only a piece of home to the ISS but also a touch of sophistication to the space menu, which already includes coffee, tea, juices, and milk. These beverages begin their journey as dehydrated powders, sent up in compact, efficient packaging aboard supply shuttles.
Once in orbit, they are reconstituted with water, which is sometimes reclaimed from the closed-loop life support systems, including the recycling of the crew's own urine—a testament to the extraordinary lengths taken to make life in space sustainable and bearable.
While the ISS is a dry vessel with no alcohol to mix into a coffee liqueur, the astronauts are still able to find solace in the simple, grounding ritual of enjoying a cup of coffee.
As we push the boundaries of space exploration, and with the advent of space tourism on the horizon, these innovations in space-friendly coffee consumption pave the way for future travellers to enjoy a cosmic cappuccino, gazing upon the Earth from above, all the while contemplating the incredible ingenuity that makes such a moment possible.