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First espresso in space

Hannah FuchsMay 7, 2015

Hot news! There's freshly brewed coffee on the ISS. Italian crew member Samantha Cristoforetti obviously enjoyed her first espresso - thanks to a sophisticated brewing system.

Infographic: how ISSpresso works (Grafik: DW).

The crew on the International Space Station ISS doesn't have to deal with microwaved instant coffee anymore. Italian astronaut Samatha Cristoforetti recently posted a picture proving she enjoyed her first, freshly brewed espresso in space.

It's been a long journey in more ways than one. The ISSpresso. It took 18 months to develop the coffee machine - a joint venture between engineering firm Argotec, the Italian coffee company Lavazza and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). With the latest Dragon delivery flight, the machine was brought up to space. And, on May 3, it had its first performance test on the ISS - and passed.

The ISSpresso is similar to a microwave in shape and size. It weighs an impressive 20 kilograms (44 pounds) - very heavy for a coffee machine that uses commercially available capsules. Its weight is primarily due to the fact that Italy's space agency requires the installation of back-up components (fail-safes) at all safety-relevant points.

In order to test the functionality of the machine in space, the developers had to pay attention to a few special features. They used an innovative capsule system that can withstand the pressure of making coffee in zero gravity. The conventional plastic tubes have been replaced by small steel pipes. After boiling the coffee, it is pumped directly into a small bag, from which the crew can sip their coffee through a straw.

An additional gimmick

Nevertheless, Samatha Cristoforetti's tweeted picture doesn't look like she's drinking her coffee out of bag. And she isn't. She uses a very special cup, made by a 3D printer. With this "zero-G cup," the astronauts can actually drink their coffee just as they did down on earth - despite the lack of gravity. The secret: Developers used the surface tension of the liquid to ensure that the black brew remains in the cup.

In addition to brewing coffee, the ISSpresso machine can create more - tea, soup, or other hot beverages. Interesting science, but perhaps more importantly for the astronauts, "a taste of home."