A critical issue standing between humanity and its manifest future - that is to say, the availability of decent coffee in space - has been solved with the invention of an espresso machine which it's planned to send up to the International Space Station (ISS), groan-inducingly dubbed the ISSpresso.
Italian astronauts Paolo Nespoli and Luca Parmitano have spent time aboard the ISS in recent years and their compatriot Samantha Cristoforetti is due to spend time there in 2014 or 2015.
Nespolo and Parmitano have apparently said they greatly enjoyed their time aboard the ISS, save for the lack of a decent espresso.
The Reg sympathises with their plight: the ISS is spartan enough without having to drink instant coffee. Clearly any sensible planning for long-haul interstellar travel needs to involve something better.
Enter Italian engineering and software company Argotec, which is already a supplier of food to the Italian space program, and coffee giant Lavazza. The two are hard at work on a coffee machine they call the ISSpresso, a capsule-using creation they hope will go aloft with Captain Cristoforetti.
The two companies are talking up their collaboration as useful science that will help us to understand fluid dynamics in microgravity. To cope with that environment, the pair have revealed that some plastic piping in a conventional coffee machine will be replaced by steel tubes capable of handling 400 bar of pressure. The machine also offers multiply redundant components, as must everything aboard the ISS.
Not that the cost of launching kit into space seems to be troubling the Italian space program: the machine is said to weigh 20kg and the Falcon-9 craft currently being used to haul cargo to the ISS has a payload of 13,150kg. Throw in the fact that the machine depicted in this fluffy promo video appears to have a considerable void within it and the device looks like an extravagance. And that's before one considers whether coffee capsules, which use disposable aluminium wrappers, are justifiable on earth or in space.
The machine's saving grace may be that it is said to be capable of making other beverages, such as tea or even broth. The latter sounds rather sensible: a nutrient-rich capsule that could be turned into a simple meal sounds like a handy way to reduce the amount of food that needs to be hauled aloft. ®
Long-time readers will note that ISS 'nauts have long been drinking water recycled from their own urine, which they refer to lightheartedly as "yesterday's coffee". Should the ISSpresso genuinely be deployed to the station, it seems clear that tomorrow's coffee will also be made of yesterday's. - Ed