CAPE CANAVERAL: Talk about a cosmic caffeine jolt. The International Space Station is getting a real Italian espresso machine.
Astronauts of all nationalities — but especially the Italians — have long grumbled about the tepid instant coffee served in pouches and drunk with straws 418 kilometres above Earth. The pouches and straws aren’t going away, but at least the brew will pack some zero-gravity punch.
The specially-designed-for-space espresso machine is dubbed ISSpresso — ISS for International Space Station.
Its launch early next year from Wallops Island, Virginia, is timed to coincide with the six-month mission of Italy’s first female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti. The 37-year-old fighter pilot and Italian Air Force captain will fly to the space station in November aboard a Russian capsule.
She’ll be the first out-of-this-world barista.
Italy’s century-old coffee maestro Lavazza teamed up with a Turin-based engineering company, Argotec, and the Italian Space Agency to improve coffee conditions aboard the orbiting outpost.
Besides espresso, ISSpresso is capable of whipping up tea and consommé.
During his stay on the space station last year, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano repeatedly talked about missing espresso.
Argotec already was working on a space espresso machine. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia will make the delivery on its Cygnus cargo ship; the launch is targeted for January.
Nasa’s coffee-loving astronaut Donald Pettit actually offered some ideas for ISSpresso during its design phase. He’s a two-time space station resident who invented and even patented a zero-gravity cup for sipping his orbital joe versus sucking it with a straw.
No question, an espresso machine will be “a welcome addition” to space station life, Pettit said on Wednesday from Johnson Space Center in Houston. The pre-measured bags of freeze-dried coffee served in orbit taste good — when you’re up there on the frontier, he said. On Earth, any coffee lover would go “Yeeck.”
Argotec spokesman Antonio Pilello has sampled the ISSpresso espresso and gives it a thumbs-up. The space machine is designed to operate at the same temperature and pressure as Earthly espresso makers, according to the company, to guarantee taste and flavour.
ISSpresso initially will fly with 20 coffee capsules. Extra packets will follow for the six-member crew, if the trial run goes well.
Astronaut Pettit points out that the lack of gravity will prevent the bubbly foam from rising to the top. Yet even if the space espresso falls short by connoisseur standards, “it would be the best coffee that we’ve ever had in space.”