Yes, it seems like there's a Starbucks everywhere nowadays, but when you live on the International Space Station, the nearest location is never closer than 249 miles away. That’s how high the ISS orbits above Earth, and up until recently, it made grabbing an espresso a real pain in the ass.
But thanks to a partnership between the Italian Space Agency, espresso maker Lavazza and engineering company Argotec, Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian astronaut in space, also became the first astronaut to drink an espresso in space at 12:44 GMT on May 3. Sure, the Italian Space Agency has never been to the moon, but there isn’t any espresso on the moon, so why bother? The space espresso came courtesy of the newly installed ISSpresso machine, described as “the first capsule espresso machine that can work in the extreme conditions found in space.”
The ISSpresso weighs a whopping 44 pounds—also known as zero pounds in space —so thankfully it can do a lot more than just make tiny espresso shots. It can also “make ‘caffè lungo’ (an espresso with a little more water than usual) and hot drinks like tea, herbal infusions and broth for rehydrating freeze-dried foods.” Interestingly, the machine uses the same Lavazza coffee capsules as the ones we use here on land, though astronauts have to drink their beverages out of a special pouch. But to make the experience more authentic, “When the straw is inserted, all the aroma of the coffee is released.”
Beyond simply improving astronauts’ quality of life, those behind the ISSpresso project say that perfecting a coffee machine that works in space benefits our understanding of how fluid dynamic principles operate in microgravity. Plus, those espresso shots will keep astronauts from crashing into comets during those longs nights of steering the ISS around the globe.