With their strange sleeping habits and busy scientific schedules, the astronauts, cosmonauts and odd celebrity visitor to the International Space Station (ISS) could probably do with a good cup of coffee more than most of us. However, all that’s usually on offer is a drink in a bag.
As part of the many experiments and research that are done in the name of science, boffins on Earth have come up with an actual coffee cup that can be used in low gravity to make drinking feel that little bit more natural. With all the space tourism on the way in the coming decades, there could be plenty of people wanting to use one.
The space cup looks very unlike your traditional mug. Designed by Portland State University with specially sculpted sides and wings, it can be 3D printed out in space, so there’s no need to pack them beforehand. All of the strange angles and curves are designed to help the liquid move to your mouth and keep it in the cup without floating off and causing chaos on the space station.
It uses a mix of capillary action (the ability to flow against, or in the absence of, gravity) and surface tension to help move the coffee into the mouth. So, your average astronaut can feel that little bit more at home, even if they are drinking from something that resembles a baby’s bootie. The estimated cost is around $500 per cup, so it’s not exactly cheap. However, since there’s already an espresso machine on the ISS, delivered by an Italian crew member and designed to work in low gravity, delivering the drink in a pouch, it would be a shame to let the opportunity go to waste.
Drinks currently available on the space station include coffee, tea, a range of juices and milk. They are all dehydrated on Earth and sent up in bags as a dry powder on the supply ships. In space, they are rehydrated with water (sometimes recycled from the astronaut’s own urine) for consumption. As far as we know though, there’s no alcohol on the ISS for a coffee liqueur.