It actually is rocket science: Scientists design a coffee cup for space

The best part of waking up, in space. (Portland State University)

Being an astronaut takes years of school, at least a thousand hours of jet flying time, and passing a space physical exam to qualify. And then, even when you finally make it to space, you can’t even have a regular cup of coffee.

Luckily for space travelers, a semi-normal cup of joe may finally be on the horizon, researchers recently announced at the American Physical Society’s 68th Annual Meeting of the Division of Fluid Dynamics in Boston.

Thanks to the effects of microgravity, coffee-sipping astronauts have had to drink their morning brew from a closed container with a straw. But recent tests of six cups could soon make it much more familiar.

Back in 2008, NASA astronaut Don Pettit used a cup he co-invented through the Capillary Flow Experiment to demonstrate how the fluid dynamics could improve fuel transfers in space. That technology is now being applied to make 3-D printed polymer glasses with a special, sharp corner that “wicks the coffee up” towards the drinker’s mouth, instead of allowing it to slosh into the air.

Here’s a 2008 video demonstrating the technology:

So far, six space cups have been made: five with a 150 milliliter (5 oz) capacity and one that holds 60 ml for espresso (pictured above), to go with the specially designed, zero-gravity espresso machine the astronauts received in May. (Check out the demonstration on Discovery News.) Not only will the cups allow astronauts to drink very hot beverages safely, it will also allow their noses to be closer to the cup, which will provide a more aromatic coffee-drinking experience, said engineer Mark Weislogel at the Boston conference.


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