The Coffee Space Arms Race !

Espresso? Now the International Space Station Is Fully Equipped
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDOMAY 4, 2015
Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian woman in orbit, after brewing the
first espresso in space. Credit NASA, via Associated Press
ROME — Samantha Cristoforetti had an espresso on Sunday that was out of
this world, and she did it in the name of science.
Ms. Cristoforetti is an astronaut, the seventh Italian and the first
Italian woman to venture into orbit. She has been at the International
Space Station since November, and over the weekend she got to do something
quintessentially Italian: She became the first person to drink an authentic
serving of what she called “the finest organic suspension ever devised” in
space.
“Fresh espresso in the new Zero-G cup! To boldly brew … ” she posted on
social media, where she has been chronicling her stay on the station with
photos and explanatory videos.
However much she may have enjoyed her first espresso in more than five
months, making the drink in orbit was no lark, but “a very serious study in
fluid physics,” Roberto Battiston, president of ASI, the Italian space
agency, wrote in an emailed statement. “Until Sunday, we didn’t know
exactly how hot fluids under high pressure reacted” in the near-weightless
environment of the space station, he said. “Now we do.”
A special espresso maker, named ISSpresso, was designed for the task by
Argotec, an engineering and software firm based in Turin, and the Italian
coffee producer Lavazza, with help from the space agency. It was included
among the experiments and technical demonstrations that Ms. Cristoforetti,
a captain in the Italian Air Force, was scheduled to carry out on her
mission to the station, which ends in mid-May.
“Coffee represents one of the distinctive elements of Italian culture,”
said a spokeswoman for the agency, who requested anonymity under her
agency’s rules for employees.
Making a proper espresso — a singular alchemy of high temperature, water
pressure and perfectly tamped coffee — is difficult enough to master on
earth. Microgravity conditions made the task still more complicated, and
Argotec took two years to work out how to do it.
“We developed our hardware on the basis of the parameters for making good
coffee, while considering safety requirements,” said Valerio Di Tana, an
engineer at the company.
The squat, 44-pound machine wound up looking something like an
old-fashioned laboratory incubator, built from military-standard
components. “You don’t see those on terrestrial machines,” Mr. Di Tana
said.
The dripless system is even designed to emit a small waft of coffee odor
when the straw is inserted into the pouch containing the brew. Two small
flaps on the side allow an astronaut to hold it without burning a hand.
An important part of the espresso-in-space experience is the newly
developed microgravity coffee cup, which allows astronauts to sip liquids
more or less the way they would use a cup on earth. It does not have an
open top that would allow spills, though; instead, the liquid reaches the
astronaut’s lips by capillary action — “almost like the wicking of water
through a paper towel,” a NASA blog post explains. The cup also provides
data on the passive movement of complex fluids in space.
The ISSpresso machine makes other hot drinks as well, including tea and
consommé. “This is important from the nutritional aspect, but also gives
the astronauts a psychological boost,” David Avino, the managing director
of Argotec, said in a telephone interview on Monday.
The company had already begun the project when another Italian astronaut,
Luca Parmitano, remarked in a June 2013 interview from the space station
that the one thing he really missed in space “was a good cup of espresso.”

 

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