Italian ISS trekkie sips first zero-G cup of espresso in SPAAAACE

Lavazza's latest brew, with a slight psychological hint of urine


The ISS now has a functioning espresso machine and it was Italy's first woman in space, astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who got the first shot – although not before donning a Star Trek uniform for the occasion.

Cristoforetti is a sufficiently ardent Trekkie to use a large chunk of her boarding allowance on a uniform from the Star Trek: Voyager series, and has worn it onboard the space station. She also has something in common with Voyager's Captain Janeway, as Cristoforetti is herself a captain in the Italian Air Force.

The ISSpresso machine was the brainchild of former ISS visitors Paolo Nespoli and Luca Parmitano, who noted that the only coffee on board was somewhat bland to the Italian palate. Italian space engineering firm Argotec designed and built the system with local coffee giant Lavazza as a partner.

Water is inserted into the ISSpresso, heated, then pressurized to 400 bar in steel pipes that force the liquid through the espresso capsule and into a drinking pouch. A low-pressure suction system draws out the last of the coffee – and the aroma – and then seals the pouch.

There's quite a payload attached to this. To get almost any machinery onboard the ISS it's got to have backups for every critical function, and so the espresso maker comes in at a weighty 20 kilograms. After a weather-delayed launch, SpaceX delivered the load and Cristoforetti was there to catch it with the station's robot arm.

Lavazza is providing a supply of coffee capsules and the water is provided by the astronauts themselves. Most of the ISS's water supply is recycled – as is much drinking water here on Earth – and astronauts often refer their water supply as "yesterday's coffee."

While most fluids are drunk from pouches onboard the ISS Cristoforetti chose to use NASA's zero-G cup, which uses capillary action to push liquids into an astronaut's mouth. You can't pour in microgravity, so the cup has a squeezable side panel that liquid naturally flows into.

Youtube Video

It might sound like a daft thing to spend research money on, but the discovery has led to the redesign of fuel pipes, coolant systems, and environmental controls to cope with the peculiar ways fluids act when in low-gravity situations.

As for the zero-G cup, there's also a psychological benefit. NASA finds that astronauts just feel more human if they can drink out of an open container occasionally. Cristoforetti chose one for her caffeinated toast to the stars and the cups are a popular item onboard the ISS.

That said, Cristoforetti won't have long to sample the delights of space espresso, since she's not got long left in orbit. She, along with US astronaut Terry Virts and the Russian commander Anton Shkaplerov, will be leaving the station on May 11 and landing in Kazakhstan after a five-month mission. ®

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