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An Espresso Machine Designed for Space Travel

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Argotec/Lavazza

Astronauts orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station often miss the many comforts of home: A warm shower. Family time. And of course, a good cup of joe.

“‘An espresso coffee is what I miss most aboard the International Space Station.’ We have repeatedly heard this comment from the Italian astronauts,” says Italian coffee company Lavazza, which teamed up with aerospace engineering company Argotec to create an espresso machine designed specifically to be used in space. It’s called the ISSpresso (I-S-S for International Space Station. Get it?), and it arrived at its destination this morning, three days after leaving Earth on a SpaceX supply ship. Now astronauts can get a cup of coffee that is “good, hot, and steaming,” says Giuseppe Lavazza, Vice President of Lavazza.

The first pour will likely go to Italian Air Force Captain Samantha Cristoforetti. She’s been on the ISS for four months already, forced to drink instant coffee which, when you’re used to the glory that is Italian espresso, is torturous. "For an instant coffee, it's an excellent instant coffee," Vickie Kloeris, who manages the space station's food supply for NASA, tells NPR. “Can it compete with brewed espresso? No."

While the ISSpresso machine is specially designed to withstand space conditions, nobody really knows how it will behave. “The principles that regulate the fluid dynamics of liquids and mixtures are very different from those typical on Earth,” Lavazza says. In a normal espresso machine, the tubes that carry water are made of plastic. In the ISSpresso, they’re made of a special steel that can withstand extreme pressure. The machine is roughly the size of a microwave but weighs about 44 pounds.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: A little capsule containing the coffee is installed along with a water bag. When the brew is done, the coffee makes its way into a standard NASA drinking pouch, which can be removed—and voila—espresso in a bag. (They’re working on designing a little cup that could be used in zero gravity.) It’s sort of like the pod-based Keurig machines we’re so familiar with down here on Earth, and like the Keurig machine, the ISSpresso produces waste with each brew. That could create a lot of trash in a short amount of time, and getting things on and off the ISS is an expensive process. "We'll see how it goes," Kloeris says. "If it's successful, then we'll have to figure out how we're going to resupply it."

But why go to all this trouble for a cup of coffee? NASA hopes the ISSpresso machine will do more than caffeinate astronauts. It will provide a place for socializing and exchanging ideas, a sort of in-orbit corner cafe. Relaxation is “an aspect that should not be ignored in missions that keep the astronauts away from home for many months in a very challenging environment,” Lavazza says.

“Food provides an important psychological support,” says David Avino, Managing Director of Argotec. “Being able to enjoy a good Italian espresso may be just the right way to finish off the menu designed especially for each astronaut, helping him or her to feel closer to home.”

The ISSpresso machine arrived at the space station with a first batch of just 20 to 30 coffee capsules, so Cristoforetti might want to pace herself.

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Space
SpaceX's Landing Blooper Reel Shows That Even Rocket Scientists Make Mistakes
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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launches.
AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

On March 30, 2017, SpaceX did something no space program had done before: They relaunched an orbital class rocket from Earth that had successfully achieved lift-off just a year earlier. It wasn't the first time Elon Musk's company broke new ground: In December 2015, it nailed the landing on a reusable rocket—the first time that had been done—and five months later landed a rocket on a droneship in the middle of the ocean, which was also unprecedented. These feats marked significant moments in the history of space travel, but they were just a few of the steps in the long, messy journey to achieve them. In SpaceX's new blooper reel, spotted by Ars Technica, you can see just some of the many failures the company has had along the way.

The video demonstrates that failure is an important part of the scientific process. Of course when the science you're working in deals with launching and landing rockets, failure can be a lot more dramatic than it is in a lab. SpaceX has filmed their rockets blowing up in the air, disintegrating in the ocean, and smashing against landing pads, often because of something small like a radar glitch or lack of propellant.

While explosions—or "rapid unscheduled disassemblies," as the video calls them—are never ideal, some are preferable to others. The Falcon 9 explosion that shook buildings for miles last year, for instance, ended up destroying the $200 million Facebook satellite onboard. But even costly hiccups such as that one are important to future successes. As Musk once said, "If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough."

You can watch the fiery compilation below.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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Space
Here's Where You Can Watch a Livestream of Cassini's Final Moments
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NASA/Getty Images

It's been a road trip like no other. After seven years and 2.2 billion miles, the NASA orbiter Cassini finally arrived at the Saturn system on June 30, 2004. Ever since, it's been capturing and transmitting valuable data about the distant environment. From sending the Huygens probe to land on the moon Titan to witnessing hurricanes on both of the planet's poles, Cassini has informed more than 3000 scientific papers.

It's been as impressive a mission as any spacecraft has ever undertaken. And tomorrow, Cassini will perform one last feat: sacrificing itself to Saturn's intense atmosphere. Project scientists are deliberately plunging it into the planet in order to secure just a little more data—and to keep the spacecraft, which is running low on fuel, from one day colliding with a Saturnian moon that might harbor life.

Because it won't have time to store anything on its hard drive, Cassini will livestream its blaze of glory via NASA. The information will be composed mostly of measurements, since pictures would take too long to send. Instead, we'll get data about Saturn's magnetic field and the composition of its dust and gas.

"As we fly through the atmosphere, we are able to literally scoop up some molecules, and from those we can figure out the ground truth in Saturn’s atmosphere," Scott Edgington, a Cassini project scientist, told New Scientist. "Just like almost everything else in this mission, I expect to be completely surprised."

The action will kick off at 7 a.m. EDT on Friday, September 15. Scientists expect to say goodbye to Cassini less than an hour later. 

While you wait for Cassini's grand finale, you can check out some essential facts we've rounded up from Saturn experts. And keep your eyes peeled for a full recap of Cassini’s historic journey: Mental Floss will be in the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to offer a firsthand account of the craft's final moments in space. 

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