The traditional tea ceremony is a formal affair that doesn’t lend itself easily to a zero-gravity environment. But Japanese astronauts could soon be learning the elaborate rituals in their spare time.
Travelling to places no man has ever seen definitely has pulling power. But space flight is not all fun and games. The menu is often limited to bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried powders, and semi-liquids stuffed in aluminium tubes.
The procedure at meal times, as quoted on the International Space Station’s web site under "Space Station Food System" sounds hard to swallow:
"Meal preparation and consumption will involve a series of steps:
That is after performing essential repairs to the station and a half hour space walk.
Not surprising, perhaps, that Japanese scientists are working on a little tea room for their section of the space station.
Though not quite sure where to put it, officials at Japan’s National Space Development Agency (NASDA), are leaning towards making room in the Kibo laboratory module, scheduled for launch in 2004.
One of the major hurdles that has yet to be overcome is how to keep the brew in cups in the absence of gravity.
"While it is possible to boil water and make tea in space, we don’t know how they are going to drink it," NASDA’s spokesman Yoshihiro Nakamura told the New Scientist magazine.
"It is not possible to keep tea in cups and we can’t have tea floating around", Nakamura added.
A team of experts from the Tokyo National University of Fine arts and music is helping with the design. It is to be modelled on the traditional Japanese tea room with tatami rush mat flooring.
NASA spokesman James Hartsfield welcomes the plans. "All international astronauts should feel free to observe their own customs," he said. "We Americans observe the 4th of July and there are similar holidays that the Russians observe."