On an average, astronauts spend about 6 months at the International Space Station (ISS), a prestigious, exciting, high risk and definitely an 'Out of the World' job! But such a job comes with a lot of sacrifice and adjustments in lifestyle. While efforts are made to provide a choice of balanced tasty meals for the astronauts, it is definitely not 'Mom's food at home'. Food is not cooked but reheated or hydrated to be eaten; salt and pepper come in liquid form to avoid funny and potentially dangerous situations when instead of mixing in the food it can float away to clog precious equipment, there are no refrigerators to store leftovers and coffee has to be sucked out of a cup in a straw and you have only one choice – Instant Coffee.
The major factor making the coffee making and drinking process such a challenge is the way liquid behaves or rather misbehaves in micro gravity, the environment on the space station. Liquids on earth rely on gravity to flow from the cup to mouth when the cup is tilted. In the space station due to low gravity, even if the coffee cup is tilted, the liquid will float around and would not exactly move into the mouth, making it an adventure to consume coffee.
2 Inventions - Zero G Coffee Cup and ISSpresso coffee machine will change the way Astronauts will consume coffee at the International Space Station.
For a person used to his or her own type of coffee be it espresso or cappuccino, making do with instant coffee and sipping it out of foil pouches is definitely a sore trial. Two recent successful inventions may change how astronauts make and enjoy decent cup of coffee of their choice – one is the Zero G Coffee Cup and the other is ISSpresso a coffee machine made especially for the space station.
The first of the inventions was the result of experiments conducted by Weislogel and colleagues conducting the Capillary Flow Experiment onboard the International Space Station which gave birth to the Zero G Coffee Cup. The speciality of the cup is that it has a sharp interior corner and in the micro-gravity environment of the space station, capillary forces send fluid flowing along the channel right into the lips of the drinker. "As you sip, more fluid keeps coming, and you can enjoy your coffee in a weightless environment-- clear down to the last drop," says Astronaut Don Pettit, who worked with the Capillary Flow Experiment during his time on board the ISS, helped invent the cup, and shares the patent along with Weisogel and two mathematicians, Paul Concus and Robert Finns.
The joint efforts of three prestigious organisations Lavazza, Argotec and Italian Space Agency made the dream of having 'real coffee' on space a possibility. Argotec is an aero-space engineering company, leader in space food for European astronauts; Lavazza a leading coffee company with decades of experience in creating cutting edge technologies for coffee and the expertise of Italian Space Agency together created ISSpresso, a coffee machine for the space station.
ISSpresso is a capsule based system that can work in extreme conditions in space. High pressure and temperature is essential to prepare a good cup of espresso and the micro gravity conditions at ISS will mess a normal coffee machine. Therefore every part of the machine has been conceived to withstand complications and contingencies. The plastic tube carrying the water inside a normal espresso machine has been replaced with a steel pipe designed to withstand pressure of more than 400 bar. The machine weighs 20 kgs to accommodate all back ups and critical components necessary for safety reasons planned in accordance with the specifications of Italian Space Agency. The capsule system will also be able to prepare not only a regular espresso, but also a caffè lungo or hot beverages, such as tea, infusions and broth and will also be able to rehydrate food.
ISSpresso will be sent into space next year as part of the Futura Mission of the Italian Space Agency aboard the Space Station along with Air Force Captain Samantha Cristoforetti who would not only be the first Italian woman astronaut in space but will also be the first person who would drink coffee in orbit. This maiden venture of Isspresso into space is an experiment and if it succeeds, the machine will become a permanent fixture at the Space Station.
Eating is a social urge and the dining space at the International Space Station with Cafe like ambience with ISSpresso may become a hub for activity, interaction and camaraderie contributing to the physiological and sociological wellbeing of the astronauts an important aspect for people floating away at 400 km above the earth.