An Espresso Machine Designed for Space Travel


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.

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Stephen Hawking’s Memorial Will Beam His Words Toward the Nearest Black Hole
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

An upcoming memorial for Stephen Hawking is going to be out of this world. The late physicist’s words, set to music, will be broadcast by satellite toward the nearest black hole during a June 15 service in the UK, the BBC reports.

During his lifetime, Hawking signed up to travel to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, but he died before he ever got the chance. (He passed away in March.) Hawking’s daughter Lucy told the BBC that the memorial's musical tribute is a “beautiful and symbolic gesture that creates a link between our father's presence on this planet, his wish to go into space, and his explorations of the universe in his mind.” She described it as "a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet."

Titled “The Stephen Hawking Tribute,” the music was written by Greek composer Vangelis, who created the scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. It will play while Hawking’s ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey, near where Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are buried, according to Cambridge News. After the service, the piece will be beamed into space from the European Space Agency’s Cebreros Station in Spain. The target is a black hole called 1A 0620-00, “which lives in a binary system with a fairly ordinary orange dwarf star,” according to Lucy Hawking.

Hawking wasn't the first person to predict the existence of black holes (Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity accounted for them back in the early 1900s), but he spoke at length about them throughout his career and devised mathematical theorems that gave credence to their existence in the universe.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, a friend of the Hawking family who portrayed the late scientist in the BBC film Hawking, will speak at the service. In addition to Hawking's close friends and family, British astronaut Tim Peake and several local students with disabilities have also been invited to attend.

[h/t BBC]

IKEA's New Collection for Tiny Apartments Is Inspired by Life on Mars

Living in a city apartment can feel claustrophobic at times. As Co.Design reports, the Swedish furniture brand IKEA took this experience to the extreme when designers visited a simulated Mars habitat as research for their latest line of housewares aimed at urbanites.

The new collection, called Rumtid, is tailored to fit the cramped spaces that many people are forced to settle for when apartment-hunting in dense, expensive cities. The designers knew they wanted to prioritize efficiency and functionality with their new project, and Mars research provided the perfect inspiration.

At the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, scientists are figuring out how to meet the needs of potential Mars astronauts with very limited resources. Materials have to be light, so that they require as little rocket fuel as possible to ferry them to the red planet, and should ideally run on renewable energy.

IKEA's designers aren't facing quite as many challenges, but spending a few days at the simulated Martian habitat in Utah got them thinking on the right track. The team also conducted additional research at the famously snug capsule hotels in Tokyo. The Rumtid products they came up with include an indoor terrarium shaped like a space-age rocket, a set of colorful, compact air purifiers, and light-weight joints and bars that can be snapped into modular furniture.

The collection isn't ready to hit IKEA shelves just yet—the chain plans to make Rumtid available for customers by 2020. In the meantime, the designers hope to experiment with additional science fiction-worthy ideas, including curtains that clean the air around them.

Air purifiers designed for urban living.

Furniture joints on bubble wrap on black table.

Modular furniture holding water bag.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of IKEA.


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