Brewing up some coffee can be a bit of a pain. In zero gravity, it’s even more tricky. Here’s how astronauts do it on the International Space Station.
For decades, astronauts have been unable to find a decent cup of coffee anywhere in the cosmos. It’s not very easy to fill a French press full of fine grounds when they go flying all over the place the second you try to remove them from their packaging. Until recently, astronauts aboard the International Space Station had to settle for Hula Girl Freeze Dried instant coffee. They come in small, vacuum-sealed packets, which makes them easy (and safe) to consume in outer space. Unfortunately, they don’t taste very good and mixing in some sugar or cream wasn’t an option. In 2013, a group of college students, along with a little help from NASA, finally came up with an ingenious method for making space coffee.
Despite their innovative system, it may already be outdated. Around the same time, European aerospace firm Argotec teamed up with coffee company Lavazza and ASI, the Italian space agency to make even better coffee in zero G. The biggest problem they faced was figuring out a way to keep boiling water inside the machine from escaping and hitting an astronaut in the face. Worse yet, there’s no way to clean out a coffeemaker on the ISS, since it doesn’t have any sinks.
After some crafty engineering, and lots of experiments with steel tubes, the team debuted “ISSpresso” in 2014. The 40-pound machine, which uses coffee pods similar to the earthbound ones made by Keurig, has coffee that’s as good as the stuff you’d get at a café in Rome (according to its markers). Even better: it doesn’t require a sink to keep clean.
The ISSpresso was finally blasted up to the space station in April where it was warmly welcomed by astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. Not only is she the first Italian woman in outer space, she’s the first astronaut in history to drink a freshly made espresso while in orbit. There’s still no way to drink it out of a mug, so she had to make do with a watertight pouch and a straw.