Astronauts Can Now Drink Espresso and Other Beverages on the ISS in Space

First Posted: Nov 26, 2015 08:01 AM EST

Would you rather have coffee from a bag or a cup? On Earth, it's an easy choice. In space, though, it's a lot harder. Now, astronauts are actually getting a chance to drink out of a specially designed cup in space.

Last year, Italy sent an espresso machine up to the space station for Samantha Cristoforetti, who was an Italian ESA astronaut. This inspired a team of researchers to study the related strange fluids phenomena in low gravity, such as espresso crema formation and settling, and containment of drinks within a spacecraft.

In this case, the researchers created cups that were crafted from a 3D printed transparent polymer and operate via siphon action. These cups exploit surface tension as opposed to gravity, and actually work aboard the space station. In fact, they work so well that the crew is able to cruise around, do flips, and even toss them back and forth while drinking beverages.

"Wetting conditions and the cup's special geometry create a capillary pressure gradient that drives the liquid toward the face of the drinker," said Mark Weislogel, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Your nose is closer to the beverage, which makes it easier to actual smell it while drinking. An astronaut can drain the cup in sips or one long gulp in much the same manner as on Earth...without tipping their head, without gravity. It's a stable situation-even though drinking scalding liquids from open containers while aboard the International Space Station is generally considered a safety concern."

The next step is to apply the new knowledge of low-gravity capillary fluidics phenomena to design more reliable life-support systems for the space station and future spacecraft.

"Management of water, liquid fuels, coolants and even drinks, when the influence of gravity is negligible, is a delightful challenge," said Weislogel. "If this can be accomplished passively, without moving parts, by special control of wetting properties, container shape, and surface tension, we're all in. We love watching and studying the large liquid surfaces that can dominate fluid behavior in space. And if astronauts are enjoying their coffee in a richer, deeper manner than before...well, that's nice too."

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