Of all the important scientific work done aboard the International Space Station (ISS), this latest discovery might be the most ground-breaking yet. It’s a space cup that lets you drink real space coffee, in space.
This coffee might have been called the ISSpresso, if Lavazza hadn’t already taken the name. A new NASA video shows astronaut Kjell Lindgren demonstrating a space cup that lets him sip coffee from an open container. Usually in zero gravity, beverages are sucked from bags through straws, because the lack of gravity doesn’t let liquid stay in a cup, and floating blobs of liquid will end up shorting out electrical gear.
The new space cup works using capillary action. Thanks to its rather odd shape, the cup holds liquids in place using their own surface tension, and that liquid can creep up the wall to a spout. It’s not quite like sipping—you still have to work to get the coffee out, but because the container is open, and your nose is stuck right in there, you can smell the coffee, which some might argue is the whole point. In this aspect, it has a lot in common with the space whisky glass.
Lindgren took some coffee pods into space, in anticipation of the cup being sent up to the ISS. The cup was developed by Portland State University’s Drew Wollman, working at R&D company IRPI LLC. Wollman modified his original cup to accept a screw-on base that contains the coffee, making the cup both the brewing instrument and the drinking vessel.
Lindgren demonstrates the device in the video, which finally arrived on a recent supply mission. He screws the coffee pod into the base, then injects hot water through the grounds, filling the cup with delicious coffee. Or rather, filling the cup with a weak, under-extracted brew, because he forces the water through the grounds way too fast. Wollman agrees.
"He was brewing it too fast. You have to go slow," Wollman told Popular Science. "Think how long it takes on Earth for coffee to filter through grounds. It shows the everyday things we take for granted when you don’t have gravity to think about."
The space cup isn’t just about brewing coffee, either. It’s also an experiment in moving liquids around in zero-G, and doing it without using a pump. But mostly it’s about good coffee, which is essential after drinking a few too many space whiskies the night before.