Just imagine if you will, that you’re an astronomy PhD student about 100 years from now. The newest space telescope has a visitor mode, so your supervisor booked you orbital tickets to spend a week on ISS Three (one of five now in orbit). As thrilling as it is to be in space, you’re exhausted. It’s about 4am by your local time, but all spacecraft are synchronised to operate in Universal Time. It’s 10am here and time to start a productive day of microgravitic science. In short, you’re in space and in dire need of some coffee.
You have ten QUID in your pocket, which is more than enough to afford a few plastic drink packs from the vending machine in the hallway, but you just know it won’t do the trick. No vitamin enriched energy drink could replace a nice hot cup of coffee right now. But everything is weightless on ISS Three (unlike ISS Four and Five which have simulated gravity, thanks to NASA’s Standfield Torus design), so there’s no gravity to hold the coffee in your cup. It’s going to be a tiring week. Or is it…?
Leaving imagination behind and coming back to reality, during STS-126, while 200 miles above Earth, Don Pettit had a fantastic idea for how to drink coffee in space. With a little help from designer Travis Baldwin, this brilliant concept was realised. The design shown here uses water’s high surface tension to trap liquid in the cup. A globule of hot coffee sits in the bottom of the cup, and the channel draws the liquid up to a lip depression at the top, enabling you to sip it in much the same way as you can on Earth.
As for brewing coffee in zero-G, that problem has already been considered too. Another astronaut, Franklin Chang-Diaz (who’s probably been on the ISS enough times to be considered a frequent flyer) was no fan of drinking microwaved coffee through a straw either. A few years ago, he approached a couple of engineering students (from Costa Rica, naturally) to see if they could find a way to solve the problem. Daniel Rozen and Josue Solano designed a device they dubbed the “Coffee Infuser”, the device is constructed to address every problem to do with brewing real coffee in space! Evidently, astronauts like their coffee as much as academics do. Right now, with the sad retirement of the space shuttle, all of this is still fairly superfluous. In a hundred years or so, though…
Seriously though, it’s heartening to know that people genuinely consider things like this. After all, space travel is about more than sealing yourself in a capsule and firing yourself towards orbit. I think it’s fair to say that humanity won’t be able to consider itself a spacefaring race until we’re able to take our culture with us whenever we go offworld.
Kudos goes to Tuvie for publicising the coffee cup (their article has several more images of the design!).