Zero-G espresso cups heading to ISS in February

Even astronauts, perhaps most especially astronauts, need their daily coffee fix. But what is usually a relaxing and pleasant experience here on earth turns into a chore out there in space. Coffee lovers would rather die than drink coffee with a straw yet that is how it's done up there. Well, not anymore. Or rather, hopefully not anymore soon, with these specially designed "espresso cups" from Portland State University that injects some scientific thinking into a modern age problem: how to drink coffee from a cup in space.

The problem is that with without gravity, liquids behave differently than they do here on earth. They form globules and do not flow as we want them to. That is why astronauts have to drink even coffee from plastic packs and straws. Practical, but not exactly classy nor ideal. PSU Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science have tried to come up with a solution using the liquid's own physics against it to bend it to our will.

The secret is in the shape of cup. The "cup" actually looks more like a pitcher but it is the shape, which is a precisely calculated contour, that forces the liquid to a certain path and right into your mouth, with a little help from some sipping action. This capillary pressure is what forces liquids not to form globules or be stuck inside containers. That "espresso" in the name isn't just for show either, as the same principle is used to produce the "crema" of an espresso here on earth. If it sounds to good to be true, this design isn't actually completely original. Back in 2008, a similar zero-g coffee mug was designed by astronaut Don Pettit. Pettit happens to also be one of the designers behind PSU's version.

Before you think this is some rather frivolous experiment, NASA is seriously interested in it. And not just because of its caffeine benefits. The science and design behind this cup can very well help NASA's own problem with liquids, from fuel to life support to toilets, in space, without having to use pumps or centrifugal force. If these liquids can be delivered simply by using a rather strange, gigantic pitcher, then so be it.

Six of PSU's zero-gravity espresso cups will be making the voyage to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon in a resupply mission in February. Once there, the cups will be used not just for coffee but for experimenting with other liquids as well, including cocoa, smoothies, and juices.

VIA: Gizmag