Coffee for Astronauts – Earthly Pleasure in Space

Coffee for Astronauts – Earthly Pleasure in Space

Good coffee is pure home – also for astronauts!

Half a year on the ISS space station is a physical and psychological challenge. But the astronauts don’t want to do without their daily cup of coffee or espresso. Today, astronauts no longer have to drink this everyday hero in poor quality and with a straw. The ISS-Presso and the “Zero-Gravity” cup bring style and enjoyment into the orbit.

One of the greatest trips

The journey into space is still a very big adventure that only a few people are granted. Extreme costs are only part of the problem, because the astronauts complete years of training to withstand the conditions of the take-off and landing process and to be able to behave properly in weightlessness. Physical fitness, a high level of mental flexibility, the ability to concentrate and the courage to deprive yourself are further building blocks for the ideal astronaut.
On board the manned international space station ISS, which has been in orbit since 1998, there is a lot of work in a tight schedule. So it’s no wonder that the dose of caffeine is a daily luxury even in space. 400 km from the surface of the earth, a cup of coffee gives a piece of home and normalcy for an average of 6 months .

Coffee from the bag

A “cup” of coffee is a big problem in weightlessness. For a long time, the astronauts had to be content with instant coffee and a “cup” was out of the question. Rather, it was a bag that was emptied using a straw. A horror for real coffee connoisseurs and the astronauts were not happy about the conditions either. Today the crew appreciates their espresso machine – the ISS-Presso – and the straw times are history thanks to the “Zero-Gravity” cup .

The problem of weightlessness

Because of the weightlessness, a special espresso machine was developed for the ISS. Because the lack of gravity prevents the freshly brewed coffee from staying in a normal cup. It would waft through the station like soap bubbles in large, free-floating spheres of liquid. If the coffee is scalding hot, however, this is an immediate risk of burns for the crew and a risk for the sensitive technical equipment.

And making coffee is not that easy either. On a stove top, the liquid would simply leave the bottom and you have to expect a different boiling point.

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The ISS-Presso

The first espresso machine suitable for space comes of course from Italy. The coffee giant Lavazza has entered a new era in cooperation with the Italian space agency ASI and the engineers from Argotech. The first espresso machine for the ISS, which was given the illustrious name ISS-Presso, is ready for use and has been on the space station since April 2015. The Italian Samantha Cristoforetti was of course allowed to enjoy the first espresso.

Due to the exceptional physical situation, the space espresso machine is only slightly comparable with its earthly relatives. The inventors’ claim to design a safe machine that freshly brews high-quality coffee took more than two years to develop.

The piece of jewelery weighs a full 20 kilograms. Many components are made of solid steel instead of plastic and the redundant structure for repairs does the rest. The ISS-Presso was also a technical challenge, because it should withstand 400 bar water pressure. The water heated to 94 ° C is sucked out of the intermediate storage and pressed through the coffee capsules at high pressure.

Another reason for the delay was the economical use of water. Every liter of water is valuable and costs up to 13,000 dollars. Recycling of sweat and urine is therefore just as necessary as thrift, so that cleaning and residual water content had to be designed as efficiently as possible. In the end, the new achievement had to be versatile. Because the espresso machine not only prepares coffee, but also tea and broth.
Despite the improvements, one problem initially remained: the unloved drinking bag and straw.

A simple “cup” of coffee

It was a long way to get to the “cup” of coffee or espresso. Since 2015, NASA has been researching the use of capillary effects to design a “cup” for the ISS space station. With success: the futuristic looking cup enables drinking without a straw. But how does it work?
It’s a question of geometry. The tapered cup literally forces the liquid to move in a directional manner. The coffee flows into the mouth without forming flying coffee balls.

A further development is the “Zero-Gravity” mug from Portland University, which is already made with a 3D printer. It combines the capillary forces with a brewing unit. The astronauts can enjoy coffee almost like on earth.

Conclusion

  • In the past there was only instant coffee on the ISS
  • This had to be sucked out of a bag with a straw
  • The ISS-Presso has been on board the international space station since 2015
  • NASA researched the use of capillary effects
  • the “Zero-Gravity” mug comes from Portland