How Space Coffee Has Changed in Recent Years

June 18, 2020Katie McCarthy
Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti drinking espresso out of the cup on ISS, 2015. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti drinking espresso out of the cup on ISS, 2015. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Astronauts on the International Space Station give up many pleasures to take those giant leaps in the name of science. They leave behind fresh vegetables, relaxing hot showers, warm sunshine, gently misting rain, and much more.

One of the things astronauts say they miss most is a good cup of coffee. How would YOU like to start your morning sucking freeze dried coffee through a straw from a sealed plastic bag?

Good news for astronauts: Morning Joe got an upgrade. On April 20, 2015, SpaceX delivered to the space station a new microgravity coffee machine named “ISSpresso.”

space coffee, nasa, coffee or die
Adobe Stock illustration.

“Our aerospace engineers have designed a coffeemaker that can function in microgravity conditions,” says David Avino of the Italian engineering firm Argotec. “Working together with the coffee company Lavazza and the Italian Space Agency, we have brought authentic Italian espresso onto the International Space Station.”

No one wants to drink Italian espresso from a plastic bag, however.  What astronauts need is a “zero-G coffee cup.”

Fortunately, six of these wonders have been delivered to the space station as well.

Fluid physicist Mark Weislogel of Portland State University and IRPI LLC, who helped invent the cups, explains why they are necessary:

“If you tried to use a regular coffee mug, you might not get the coffee to your face,” says Weislogel. “It would be trapped at the bottom of the mug.”

In low-gravity environments like the space station, fluids tend to get ‘sticky.’ Surface tension and capillary effects, which are overwhelmed by gravity on Earth, rule the day in space.  As a result, coffee tends to cling to the walls of the cup.

“You could dip your tongue in the cup, and lick the hot coffee out. Or you could throw it out of the cup and suck down the scalding blob that forms in the air.”

No thanks.

The zero-G coffee cup solves these problems by ‘going with the flow’: putting the strange behavior of fluid in microgravity to work.

“Basically,” explains Weislogel, “the liquid piles up right at the lip of the cup and keeps flowing as you sip. It pours out by the combined effects of your mouth, the wetting conditions of the fluid, surface tension, and the particular shape of the cup.”

This oddball cup wouldn’t work on Earth, but it is a marvel in space.

space coffee, nasa, coffee or die
Adobe Stock illustration.

Weislogel and colleagues learned how to make the coffee cup by conducting ‘capillary flow’ experiments onboard the station.  For years they have been studying how fluids on the station climb the walls of their containers, turn corners, and perform other maneuvers that defy Earthly intuition.

“It’s not all about the coffee,” he says. “We need to understand how fluids behave in any container.”

The operation of many critical space station systems — air conditioning, refrigerators, toilets, cryogenic fuel tanks, medical treatments, the water supply, and everything else that involves liquids– depends on the ebb and flow of fluids.

“These systems must work without gravity if they are to be used on the International Space Station – or on a spaceship en route to Mars,” he adds.

Compared to those other systems, “coffee is not in the critical path of operations,” says Weislogel.

Try telling that to the astronauts at 5:30 in the morning.

This article was originally published on July 10, 2015, by NASA

Katie McCarthy
Katie McCarthy

Katie McCarthy is the managing editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. Her career in journalism began at the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer in 2008, where she learned to navigate the newsroom as a features reporter, copy editor, page designer, and online producer; prior to joining Coffee or Die, she worked for Outdoor Sportsman Group as an editor for Guns & Ammo magazine and their Special Interest Publications division. Katie currently lives in Indiana with her husband and two daughters.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

Ouija Board aircraft carrier
Low-Tech ‘Ouija Boards’ Have Helped Aircraft Carriers Operate for Decades

Since the 1920s, a low-tech tabletop replica of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck has been an essential tool in coordinating air operations.

Army vs. Navy mascot
The Navy Goat vs. the Army Mule: Mascot Origin Stories

For nearly as long as the Army-Navy football rivalry, the academies’ hoofed mascots have stared each other down from the sidelines. Here are their stories.

ukraine long-range weapon
Zelenskyy Says Ukraine Has Developed a Long-Range Weapon, a Day After Strike Deep Inside Russia

Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.

7 of the Best Movie Ambush Scenes of All Time

Ambushes make for great action scenes. Here are seven of the best to ever grace the big screen.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, with his daughter, center right, reportedly named Ju Ae, review the honor guard during their visit to the navy headquarter in North Korea
North Korea Launches Missile Toward Sea After US Flies Bomber During Drills

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launch occurred Wednesday but gave no further details, such as how far the missile flew.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved