Mornings on the International Space Station (ISS) got a bit brighter as the first cup of espresso coffee in space was brewed and drank on the station by Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. To celebrate, Cristoforetti tweeted back to Earth a photo of her imbibing the brew, saying, "'Coffee: the finest organic suspension ever devised.' Fresh espresso in the new Zero-G cup! To boldly brew…"
It may not have been the first Moon landing, but history was made on May 3 at 12:44 GMT as the ISSpresso capsule espresso machine hissed and bubbled out its first cuppa. Designed and built as joint effort between aerospace engineering firm Argotec and coffee company Lavazza with the help of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the ISSpresso uses standard Lavazza coffee capsules, but the makers say that it is otherwise a pretty serious piece of space engineering, which Cristoforetti installed in one of the station's modules.
ISSpresso isn't like a terrestrial espresso machine. It had to be redesigned to take into account the peculiar fluid dynamics of zero gravity, as well as engineered to meet space station safety requirements, such as using steel instead of plastic tubing. According to Lavazza, this makes the ISSpresso more than a publicity stunt and it is officially listed as one of the nine experiments selected by ASI for Cristoforetti’s Futura Mission to the station.
The first espresso was actually dispensed into a special plastic drinking bag. This was deliberately left transparent for purposes of the observing the brewing experiment, and was specially designed with the machine to produce a pressure difference, so the bag releases the proper aroma when pierced by a straw. However, Portland State University produced the cup used later by Cristoforetti. This 3D-printed plastic cup uses surface tension to keep the coffee in the cup, and capillary action to let astronauts drink as if out of a normal cup on Earth. The latter also helps in producing the "crema" of an espresso.
"With the successful conclusion of today’s experiment, we have completed the challenge we set ourselves almost a year ago when we presented the project, not only overcoming the limits of weightlessness and allowing the astronauts on board the International Space Station to drink excellent espresso coffee, that undisputed symbol of Italian made products, but also improving our knowledge about fluid dynamics," says Argotec Managing Director David Avino and Lavazza Group Vice President Giuseppe Lavazza.