Zero-gravity coffee presents more challenges than you’d think

Astronauts living in the International Space Station lack a lot of basic comforts we enjoy here on Earth. For example, they can’t lay their head upon a soft feather pillow because there’s no gravity. Eating and drinking is also an entirely different experience in orbit. While you’re cooking for your online baking courses, you might enjoy pairing a cup of coffee with your confections, but astronauts didn’t really have a way to do the same thing, until now. Two new products allow astronauts to make and drink coffee in space similar to how you would on Earth.

Enjoying espresso
Italian coffee company Lavazza, aerospace engineering company Argotec and the Italian Space Agency have together developed the ISSpresso machine. Espresso, it turns out, is an even more complicated beverage to brew without gravity. The boiling temperature of water is affected by air pressure. To get the perfect temperature for brewing espresso, the ISSpresso machine must be pressurized to the same degree it is at sea level on Earth. By ensuring the boiling water is perfect, the machine creates authentic espresso ready to drink in space. An ISSpresso machine will be installed in the International Space Station later in 2014.

According to The Telegraph, ISSpresso will be delivered in November by Samantha Cristoforetti, an Italian astronaut. She will be the first Italian woman in space, and the first to drink authentic espresso in orbit.

Conquering the cup
While astronauts will be able to brew espresso soon, they still need a way to consume the liquid. Most often, Space Station crews drink from a pouch that contains a straw. This is the method ISSpresso uses to deliver coffee to astronauts. However, many astronauts miss tossing back a cup of their morning joe. Without gravity, liquid floats in amorphous spheres – imagine the way mercury works planet-side. Were an astronaut to try and pour coffee into a mug, it would likely form into beads and float about the cabin. While chasing after the blobs could be a fun game of scooping up coffee, it’s not the caffeine-drinking experience many of the crew members miss.

According to the International Business Times, that’s why researchers at Portland State University in Oregon are working on an anti-gravity mug. Crews on the International Space Station are testing what’s called the Capillary Flow Experiment. They use a plastic bag that’s shaped like an airplane wing – round on one side with a crease on the other. Researchers used physics to predict that the liquid would move into the crease, adhering to the bag. Videos of NASA astronauts show that such predictions were correct. While the coffee bag is still in prototype stages, it’s one small step for the consuming of liquids in space and one giant leap for improving the comforts of life in orbit.

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