Life Tech Space coffee: the final frontier

Space coffee: the final frontier

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In space, no one can hear you scream … of caffeine withdrawal.

The crew of the International Space Station – a mighty feat of aerospace engineering and human endeavour, currently in low-earth orbit for the last several years – rejoiced on the weekend as the latest delivery of supplies from NASA brought with it a much prized piece of cargo: a specially designed zero-gravity espresso machine.

Until Saturday, inhabitants of the ISS have had to satisfy their urge for a double-shot café latte by sipping coffee from a plastic pouch. Living in space is certainly not glamorous.

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Now, thanks to designers at Italian coffee manufacturer Lavazza, the crew of the ISS can partake in a hot cup of Joe from their new espresso machine, the ISSpresso, and drink from custom-made zero-gravity cups.

Designed for Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, the ISSpresso machine functions in a similar manner to its earthly counterparts, except for design changes made to compensate for the differences in fluid dynamics in space.

An astronaut simply attaches a plastic water pouch to the machine’s intake port, slips their coffee pod of choice into the machine and sits back (well, floats) as the machine expels hot espresso into another plastic pouch.

NASA could not confirm whether a barista with tatts, wearing cherry-red Dr Martens boots performs this operation.

The team at Lavazza have not been alone in conquering this malady, nay nightmare, of outer space living. A team of engineers from Portland, Oregon, have also designed a special cup for use in space, which uses the principles of capillary fluidics to keep liquids inside an open vessel.

ISSpresso-machine-04Basically, when two surfaces of an odd-shaped drinking container – like a triangular cup – come together at a sharp angle, any fluid within the vessel is drawn by surface tension along the walls of the container. By sipping from the corner opening of this newly designed space cup, an astronaut can drink any liquid without the need for gravity.

This is how the crew will drink their coffees.

There’s no word yet on when the ISS’s new pizza oven is due to arrive, but along with the new cup design, the ISSpresso goes a long way to capturing a little slice of Italy some 400 kilometres above the earth, albeit one travelling at roughly 7.66 kilometres per second and orbiting the globe every 90 minutes or so.

Rest assured, Lavazza will likely milk the whole ‘first zero-gravity espresso machine in space’ stunt for many parsecs to come.

Now that this feat of caffeinated engineering has been accomplished, it’s safe to assume there are no more reasons to hold off a manned mission to Mars.

You can follow Samantha Cristoforetti on Twitter as she tweets from the ISS here.

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