Italy’s first female astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, had a particularly warm welcome when she landed on the ISS last week. Sure, it’s great to have new people to pal around with when your astronauting your brains out up there, but we know the real reason for the celebration. Cristoforetti shepherded a very special treat to the space station: the ISSpresso, the first truly space-aged espresso machine.
Seriously, that is what they called it. Never say scientists haven’t got a sense of humor.
Creating a perfect espresso drink anywhere is a delicate procedure, but creating it in space has its own special challenges. Unlike drip coffee, espresso relies on emulsified oils rising to the surface, creating the distinctive “crema”. But that technique relies on gravity. And so an epic science project is born: researchers at the Italian Space Agency (in conjunction with Lavazza and Argotec) recreated the effect with surface tension, not gravity, and sent the first cosmic coffee maker to the space station, complete with a special cup that allows the brew to be perfectly prepared.
Supposedly, this has broader implications. The Portland based cup designer, Mark Weislogel, mentioned something about the project improving all fluid systems on the ISS including cooling systems, fuel tanks, water processing equipment for life support and medical fluids. But we know better. It’s no coincidence this went up with the Italian astronaut – our theory is interstellar domination through espresso.
To celebrate the day man achieved the perfect space station morning, we bring you five crazy things you could find on the International Space Station.
1. 3D Printer
WTF, right?! You might not have even seen a 3D printer yet, but there is already one on the ISS? They move quick over there in the space program. But, having a 3D printer on the space station is not only incredibly cool, it’s absurdly useful. Need a spare part for the space station? Print one out! Need something for your science experiment? Download some plans and bam! problem solved. No waiting around for another Soyuz capsule, you’re all set. In fact, that espresso cup? Turns out they didn’t ship that cup, ISS crewmembers are going to print them out. How cool is that?!
Pictured above is the first item manufactured in space: a faceplate for the 3D printer.
While the current printer has limitations, researchers believe the potential to manufacture items is the first step in a space exploration revolution.
2. Inflatable Rooms
Well, you can’t find this one quite yet, but the first inflatable module is on track for installation on the ISS in 2015. NASA is watching closely to see if the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (nicknamed BEAM) is safe for human habitation, specifically testing to see if it can stand up to the hazardous levels of radiation.
3. Buzz LightYear
Buzz actually departed the ISS in 2012, but he served with the crew for over 15 months. In an ironic twist, Buzz has suffered the same fate he and Andy so desperately tried to avoid in Toy Story 2: he’s now part of a display in the Smithsonian Museum. Infinity and Beyond indeed.
Of all the toys you can think of that shouldn’t be on a space station, Lego are pretty high on the list. I don’t know about you, but I find random Lego blocks floating around my house all the time. Although, I guess if they were actually floating it might improve the situation. It’s one sure way to avoid stepping on the tiny blocks. But whatever the risks, Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa couldn’t help himself: the referential humor of building a realistic lego model of the ISS while orbiting the Earth on the actual ISS was just too much of a temptation to resist.
5. Smokey the Bear
That’s right, even on a space station it’s important to remember that only you can prevent wildfires. In this case, perhaps by not turning the ISS into a giant flaming ball of wreckage that crashes to Earth setting of armageddon? We’re guessing the astronauts are not leaving campfires burning or throwing smoldering cigarette butts out of the window. So, why was Smokey aboard? Well, it turns out that fire is actually a real problem in space. It’s hard to extinguish and it’s not like you can open a window to let out the smoke.
So, when in a gesture of comradely goodwill Russian cosmonauts asked their American counterpart to choose a good luck talisman for the flight, Joe Acaba chose the iconic bear. While it is a tradition, the talisman also serves the more serious purpose of indicating when the crew has reached zero gravity.
Smokey has since photo-bombed many an astronaut selfie while floating around the station.
Update: Apparently, the ISSpresso did not make it on to the last flight and won’t be delivered until April. Ground control reports the last message they received from the station was “don’t talk to me before I’ve had my coffee.”
Featured Image: Oleg Artemyev