Astronauts Need Great Coffee Service Too

Sometimes us earth-dwellers have it so easy. We can walk, jump, and run without fear of floating off into space, and we can take advantage of a quality coffee service to get our daily caffeine fix.

It’s hard to get through a normal day on a planet without a good cup of coffee. Could you imagine trying to do your job as an astronaut without a healthy coffee boost? Could you even imagine eating and drinking without gravity?

Astronauts on the International Space Station don’t have our luxuries. They haven’t been able to enjoy our earthbound coffee experience. To date, astronauts have been forced to consume caffeine with a straw, which draws the liquid out of a closed container.

Now, NASA has began studying the behavior of fluids in microgravity using a new 3D-printed cup designed for this purpose.

A Brilliant Idea From One Of Coffee’s Biggest Supporters

The idea for studying coffee and other liquids consumed in space surfaced after Italian European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti received an espresso machine. She couldn’t enjoy an espresso or cup of coffee the Italian way when “on the job.”

Based on her idea, NASA assembled a team of researchers to study capillary flow, liquid containment, and low-gravity fluid dynamics. They designed six different transparent polymer cups for use on the space station.

Five of the cups hold 150ml, while a sixth, smaller 60ml vessel was designed specifically for espresso.

The “Space Age”-Designed Coffee Cups

NASA’s cups were shaped with a crease to hold the drink in place to prevent spillage (and a potentially hazardous situation inside the spacecraft’s cabin).

With this wrinkle, the cups hold liquid steady even when an astronaut flips or tosses the cup. The designed crease keeps liquid inside the cup unless an astronaut creates surface tension when he or she wants to drink.

According to Mark Weislogel, a mechanical engineering professor at Portland State University, “Wetting conditions and the cup’s special geometry create a capillary pressure gradient that drives the liquid forward toward the face of the drinker. An astronaut can drain the cup in sips or one long gulp in much the same manner as on Earth.”

NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui have been testing the cups, drinking both coffee and other beverages. According to the researchers, these space explorers were surprised by how well the cups worked, pleased with their overall drinking experience. “Hey, you can smell the coffee!” said one astronaut. “This is eerily like drinking on Earth,” said another.

The NASA-lead team presented its initial results on their capillary flow experiment during this week’s annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics in Boston.

Look for your space-ready coffee cup in the near future.

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