Not willing to go without his morning coffee ritual, astronaut Don Pettit has invented a coffee cup that helps liquid defy gravity
Some people just can’t go without their morning coffee. Even if morning is pitch black because you’re outside of the earth’s orbit.
For astronaut Don Pettit, the morning coffee ritual was something he wasn’t willing to go without, even in space. Pettit is currently living aboard the International Space Station, which at the moment is orbiting somewhere over central Asia. When Pettit arrived at the Space Station in mid-November, he knew he’d have to come up with a way to enjoy his morning coffee while floating in zero gravity.
Drinking anything in space is complicated. Water globules will float away if not contained, which is why astronauts have traditionally drank out of sealed pouches. But slurping Tang out of a plastic pouch that makes you feel like you’re back in the middle school lunch room doesn’t quite have the same allure as gracefully sipping a Kona hazelnut blend while watching the planets float past your window. So Pettit took it upon himself to invent the first ever zero-G coffee cup.
Pettit explained his dilemma while speaking to Mission Control during a videoconference two weeks ago. He pulled a piece of plastic from his Flight Data File and folded it into a teardrop shape with one end closed. He explained that surface tension inside the makeshift cup would keep liquid from escaping and floating away.
“The way this works is, the cross section of the cup looks like an airplane wing,” he said. “The narrow angle here will wick the coffee up.”
Better living through physics
Pettit explained that rockets use the same concept that the coffee mug is based off of when they draw fuel into their engines in weightless conditions. This isn’t the first time Pettit has used to Mr. Wizard-style know-how to invent objects that make life in space easier. His first stay aboard the Space Station in 2002 saw him tinkering with broken hardware in what he called his Saturday Morning Science teleconferences with Mission Control.
Coffee drinking hasn’t been the only liquid issue aboard this particular International Space Station mission. Since water is so heavy to carry into space, NASA has spent the past 10 years perfecting a way to turn wastewater into drinking water. The filter that resulted from those efforts is being used for the first time onboard this mission. While it might seem a little gross at first, NASA says the filter works so well that the water is actually more pure than any municipal tap water found in the United States.
Wastewater conversion aside, self-professed coffee junkie Pettit is just happy to enjoy his fix in a regular mug. During his last mission, Pettit brought along enough instant coffee to last the duration of his stay at the Space Station. Now he hopes his invention will help future space explorers be more comfortable while in orbit.
“This may very well be what future space colonists end up using when they want to have a celebration and do a toast,” he said.