The Space Station Gets A Coffee Bar | KUOW News and Information

The Space Station Gets A Coffee Bar

Apr 15, 2015
Originally published on April 15, 2015 11:14 am

In space, all they have is instant.

"For an instant coffee, it's an excellent instant coffee," says Vickie Kloeris, who manages the space station's food supply for NASA. Astronauts are allotted up to three freeze-dried cups (pouches, actually) a day, and Kloeris says it's "extremely popular."

But, she adds, "Can it compete with brewed espresso? No."

And that is a problem, particularly for the Italian astronauts who occasionally come to the station. In 2013, Luca Parmitano reportedly said the only food he missed from Earth was espresso coffee.

Now a resupply mission with a Space Age espresso maker is coming to the rescue of Italy's current astronaut aboard the space station, Samantha Cristoforetti.

The machine was designed by Argotec, an Aerospace company based in Torino, Italy, together with the Italian coffee company Lavazza.

It's called ISSpresso.

"I-S-S for the International Space Station," says David Avino, Argotec's managing director. "'Presso' like the espresso."

The ISSpresso is a box about the size of a microwave. You put in a pouch of water, add a little capsule of espresso and press the button marked "brew." The espresso comes out in a second pouch. (Avino says the Italians are still trying to develop a little cup that will work in zero-G's.)

As The Salt has reported previously, this is an experimental machine. Nobody's sure how all that coffee and steam will behave in zero gravity, and they've had to take extra safety measures, including steel tubing and lots of sensors. Avino says he's confident hot espresso won't squirt into the cabin.

Assuming it works, Italian astronaut Cristoforetti will probably get the first shot, but Avino says the machine is for everyone.

"Everybody can join and can also be happy getting an espresso coffee," Avino says. "And this will be also a great occasion, you know, to all meet together and [have] a coffee all together on the station."

It's perfect for the astronauts, but NASA's Vickie Kloeris is anxious. "Each cup has an individual capsule that has to be packaged separately. So there's a lot of trash and a lot of volume involved in it," she says. Getting things in and out of space is expensive, and Kloeris says NASA managers are still trying to figure out how to deal with all those finicky plastic pods.

Assuming it works, she thinks the astronauts will soon be needing more: The machine comes with just 20-30 coffee capsules.

"We'll see how it goes," she says. "If it's successful, then we'll have to figure out how we're going to resupply it."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news, the crew of the International Space Station is about to get something that's considered even more precious than water - a decent cup of coffee or, to be more precise, espresso. An espresso maker blasted off yesterday into outer space, courtesy of the Italian Space Agency of course. It arrives on Friday, hopefully in time for breakfast. And we have coverage from NPR's Geoff Brumfiel.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: I wake up. I'm tired and then...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Three, two, one, zero and lift off.

(SOUNDBITE OF COFFEE MAKER DRIPPING)

BRUMFIEL: Houston, we have coffee. In space, though, it's a different story. All they've got is instant. It's not bad, but right now there's an Italian astronaut on the space station. And David Avino can tell you Italians take their coffee very seriously.

DAVID AVINO: As Italian, I can say, first of all, the flavor - I like the coffee very strong. I like very much also the foam on the top.

BRUMFIEL: Avino is managing director of an aerospace company called Argotec in Torino, Italy. He wanted to help that astronaut, and Argotec is just up the road from a major Italian coffee company, Lavazza. So the two companies got together and created an espresso maker for space. It's called ISSpresso.

AVINO: ISS for the International Space Station, presso like the espresso.

BRUMFIEL: It's a box about the size of a microwave. You put in a pouch of water, add a little capsule of espresso and brew. Now, it's important to say that this is an experimental machine. Nobody's sure how all that coffee and steam will behave in zero gravity. Avino says they've had to take a lot of precautions to make sure hot espresso doesn't squirt into the cabin. Assuming it works, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will probably get the first shot, but Avino says the machine's for everyone.

AVINO: Everybody can join and can also be happy getting an espresso coffee. And this will be also a great occasion, you know, to all meet together and having a coffee altogether on the station.

BRUMFIEL: It's perfect for the astronauts, but if Vickie Kloeris, who manages the space station's food supply, is anxious because it could create a huge headache.

VICKIE KLOERIS: Each cup has an individual capsule that has to be packaged separately, so there's a lot of trash and a lot of volume involved in it.

BRUMFIEL: Getting things in and out of space is expensive, and Kloeris says NASA managers are still trying to figure out how to deal with all those finicky plastic pods.

KLOERIS: We'll see how it goes. And, you know, if it's successful, then we'll have to figure out how we're going to resupply it (laughter).

BRUMFIEL: She says NASA will have to find a way because once astronauts get a taste of espresso, ditching the machine won't be an option. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.