Space Coffee

By Olena Nazarenko

You’ve just taken three quizzes and a test, and you’ve got one more class to go. Only you’d gotten three hours of sleep last night, so what you really want is to crawl into a deli or a Starbucks to buy yourself a desperately needed cup of coffee. But there’s still that last class, and no place to get coffee at Tech.

If you think that’s tragic, just imagine the struggle for astronauts.

on-orbit-coffee-cup7When we think about astronauts, we wonder how they bear leaving behind the things we sometimes take for granted: loved ones, delicious Earth food, and good old gravity, but what we often fail to remember is that they also leave behind an Ethiopian treasure, one that seems all-too-accessible in the city that never sleeps: coffee.

Coffee helps us stay alert while we struggle to keep our grades up, but for astronauts, coffee is an essential stimulant that may make all the difference between life and death and what makes national success or national failure. If a person in space isn’t fully awake to react appropriately to a problem with machinery, there may be terrible consequences: a lack of oxygen, an explosion, the list goes on.

Coffee is thus a survival tool. There’s just one problem: how do you drink a boiling hot liquid when the on-orbit-coffee-cup1liquid doesn’t go where you want it to go? Like, what if it goes up your nose, or splatters into your eye? Gravity doesn’t just act upon you on Earth—it acts upon your cup, your coffee as it adopts the shape of your cup, and your coffee as it travels down the side of your cup while you tilt it toward your mouth. In space, there’s no gravity, so you either need to lick the coffee from the bottom of your cup, or throw the coffee into the air and attempt to ingest it as it floats away. These options may seem silly on Earth, but in space they’re a terribly inconvenient reality.

In fact, it’s so much of an inconvenient reality that NASA had to come up with a zero-G coffee cup.

on-orbit-coffee-cup4“Basically,” explains fluid physicist Mark Weislogel of Portland State University and IRPI LLC, who helped with the invention, “the liquid piles up right at the lip of the cup and keeps flowing as you sip. It pours out by the combined effects of your mouth, the wetting conditions of the fluid, surface tension, and the particular shape of the cup.”

So if you decide to go to space like a couple other Brooklyn Tech graduates, don’t forget to thank those who’ve made pleasant your daily cup o’ java in zero gravity.

 

 

References

NASA. Space Coffee. 10 July 2015.

National Coffee Association . History of Coffee. n.d.

Photos Taken From Espresso Bella Inc., Toronto’s Coffee Catering Company.

 

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