This Cup Lets Astronauts Sip Espresso in Zero Gravity

(Photo: Portland State University)

Italy plans to send an espresso machine to the International Space Station later this year, which has prompted this innovative cup design. Astronauts usually suck liquids out of containers with tubes. But that’s a terrible way to drink fine Italian coffee. Espresso should be sipped from an espresso cup. This cup developed by researchers at Portland State University can permit precisely that, even in very low gravity. Liz Stinson writes for Wired:

The cup’s shape is odd—a little like a plastic baby boot—and was determined by mathematical models. Every curve and geometric shape is designed to encourage the controlled movement of liquid. You’ll notice a pointed corner in the center of the cup; this strange bit of design is what makes it possible to drink liquids in low gravity. The corner essentially acts like a wick, using surface tension to guide liquid toward your mouth. As soon as an astronaut touches her mouth to the lip of the cup, a capillary connection is formed and the liquid travels up the vessel and forms sippable balls of coffee.

It sounds simple enough, but designing a cup for space requires a deep understanding of how fluids move in low gravity. “We’re geeks, and we make spacecraft fluid systems,” says Mark Weislogel, a professor of mechanical and mechanical engineering who is leading the research. “It’s like space plumbing.

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