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Drinking Coffee From a Cup In Space 176

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the harder-than-you-might-think dept.
muggs was one of several readers to note a fluffy piece making the rounds about an astronaut inventing a zero-g coffee cup. Of course, since the space station inhabitants drink recycled urine, I'm still not totally convinced that I would want to try that cup.
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Drinking Coffee From a Cup In Space

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  • by tsotha (720379) on Monday November 24, 2008 @02:49PM (#25875613)
    ...as long as they don't eat too much asparagus.
  • by Channard (693317) on Monday November 24, 2008 @02:49PM (#25875621) Journal
    'But it *is* piss, Buzz.' 'Oh good, so it's not just me.' Apologies to Austin Powers.
    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:30PM (#25876135)

      What's the big deal about drinking recycled urine? I guess I just don't get it; pure water is pure water, regardless of what was in it in the past (unless, I sopose, you believe in homeopathic medicine). Statistically, I bet most of the water you drink has gone through a fellow human being at some point or another, what's the big deal?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Analogy Man (601298)
        Yes indeed we are all drinking the pee of something or another. The only exception would be fossil water that predates life forms or comes from places that have never had them - like comets.
      • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Monday November 24, 2008 @05:06PM (#25877365) Journal

        I've read some interesting psychology research done on humans and how they value, and transfer, the concept of filth. It's not logical, and it's pervasive.
        The basic experiment works like this: you offer the subject two pieces of chocolate. One looks like a bar of chocolate. The other looks like a turd. You ask the subject which one is preferable, and what value it has over the other ("Would you eat the turd over the bar for $1?") Another version, that measures how the brain transfers filth, offers two cups of tea, one stirred with a spoon, the other with a brand-new just-removed-from-package flyswatter. People place a measurable, significant value on the object that isn't associated with filth, even if there isn't actually any filth there. It's just the perception. People mentally mark things as dirty/unhealthy/nasty, and then mark anything that's been touched by those things as similarly filthy. You can measure how much people think types of contact dilute filth ("five-second rule!") and how they perceive filth degrading over time.

        And the somewhat ironic thing is that fresh urine is one of the more sterile materials out there. There are orders of magnitude less nasty infectous beasts in a nice frosty cuppa pee than in someone's saliva.

        But that doesn't make people like it any better.

        It horrifies many people when they go on bike rides along the river and see the waste treatment plants dumping water out into the river upstream of other cities. They realize those other cities are drinking their pee, and they in turn are drinking someone else's pee. I guess that before that point, they think that waste just *vanishes* somehow. Personally, I've often looked at watershed drainage maps and calculated how many people water has been through when it gets to, eg Des Moines compared to Black Hawk, Colorado. (I estimate 4 animals, maybe 1 person, for Black Hawk, and more like 30-70 animals/people for Des Moines.)

        • by shaitand (626655)

          That water you are referring to is tap water. If I recall correctly my TDS meter showed it to be roughly 99.9996% pure but most people won't drink it anymore. On the other hand, my bottled water measures in at 99.99998% pure.

          The crazy thing. I've double blind taste tested a couple people and they could consistently tell the difference. It's fascinating that humans can detect such minute variations in water. Its obvious why we developed it, but still fascinating.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Alarindris (1253418)

          It's like how my girlfriend chastises for not washing my hands after I pee, but has no problems giving me a blowjob without first dunking my schlong in bleach.

        • Sterile is not the same as non-poisonous. Urine contains things your body didn't want in the first place (i.e. urea); putting them back in is counter-productive.

          I'm not against the urine purification idea at all, just the idea of people preaching that it's okay to drink their own urine.

          • 'poison' is overstating it a bit. We urinate to get rid of ammonia produced from the metabolism of excess proteins. We turn it into urea. Birds turn it into uric acid, fish just dump it overboard. Since it's a waste product, it's obviously not *good* for us, but I've met people, mostly crabby weird old men, who regularly drink their own urine. They claim it makes them live longer. (I think it just makes it SEEM like they're living longer. Or maybe it's the eat-live-goldfish-first-thing-in-morning so

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by popsicle67 (929681)
        Every drop of water on earth has been through someone's or somethings bladder. 3 billion years is a long time to stay a virgin.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Hankenstein (107201)

              Similar to the comment above me.... I live in Colorado, what do all you people in Vegas think
      you are drinking? Or for the other side of the continental divide, Denver's filtered wastwater
      heads downstream to eventually end up in Kansas City. New Orleans appears to be the endpoint,
      glancing at a map, which could explain why alcohol consumption is large there.

  • From the fucking article (don't worry, I didn't actually read any of it):

    He used a piece of plastic ripped from his Flight Data File mission book and folded it into a teardrop-shape that's closed at one end. Surface tension inside the cup keeps the coffee from floating out and running amuck.

    "The way this works is, the cross section of this cup looks like an airplane wing," he said. "The narrow angle here will wick the coffee up."

    The result: space coffee in a zero-G cup.

    The theory behind the novel coffee cup is the same one used by rockets to draw fuel into their engines while flying through weightless conditions in space, Pettit said.

    • by Abreu (173023)

      I'm having a bit of trouble picturing this... is it like drinking out of an erlenmeyer flask?

      • by snowraver1 (1052510) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:03PM (#25875791)
        I'm having a bit of trouble picturing this...

        ... Which is why there is a video in TFA.
      • No. More like drinking out of a Klein Bottle.

      • I'm having a bit of trouble picturing this...

        The horizontal cross section of the mug is a teardrop shape, rather than a circle (like a standard mug). The coffee stays in one clump in the cup due to surface tension. However, at the pointy end of the teardrop, the coffee is drawn towards the mouth of the cup through capillary action. An astronaut may sip the coffee from the pointy end of the mug while the bulk of the coffee remains in the mug. Capillary action will continuously replace the coffee that
      • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Monday November 24, 2008 @08:05PM (#25879427) Journal

        I'm having a bit of trouble picturing this...

        In case you can't view the video or the pictures:

          1) Take a piece of paper.

          2) Fold it in half but don't squash and crease it. The joined edges are flat together and the rest of the paper tries to form a gentle curve. The midline where the crease WOULD have been is trying to be a cylinder, but the curvature has to reduce, then reverse, to end up with the edges being flat together. The result is a pipe with a cross-section shaped like a tear drop.

          3) Now take your teardrop-pipe and fold one end closed. Squeeze the rest so the remaining opening in the other end stays open and teardrop shaped. This is your cup.

          4) When you fill it with liquid in zero-G the liquid attaches to the cup by surface tension. It is attracted most to the folded edge, because there's so much more surface in close proximity. Next most attractive area is the closed bottom, so the bulk of the liquid stays down there.

          5) Because the join of the edges is so attractive, the blob of liquid reaches an "arm" up the inside of the join, all the way up to the cup's opening. That's where you suck on it. It's like a virtual straw, which doesn't need to completely enclose the liquid.

        Make sense now?

  • by MaxwellEdison (1368785) on Monday November 24, 2008 @02:49PM (#25875635)
    They just drink pencils.
  • Imagine, a guy with the name muggs [mailto] would have the inside scoop on this story.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Unless you import virgin hydrogen and oxygen from a supernova, the water you had this morning has been through several organisms...

    • by SBacks (1286786)

      Ewww... drinking recycled waste from a star? None for me, thanks.

      I collect particles created at Fermilab and turn them into H and O, then combine them to make water.

    • by Dolohov (114209)

      ... with a lot less filtering, too.

  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Deadstick (535032) on Monday November 24, 2008 @02:54PM (#25875683)
    Of course, since the space station inhabitants drink recycled urine

    And, ummm, who doesn't? Most of us just have a bigger recycling plant than they do.

    rj

    • And, ummm, who doesn't? Most of us just have a bigger recycling plant than they do.

      And much less efficient too.

  • an astronaut inventing a zero-g coffee cup.

    Someone needs to switch to decaf, I'm thinking...

    • All kidding aside, it takes the little innovations like this to make prolonged stays in space bearable. At the very least it removes Capri Sun's stranglehold over drink service for space tourism flights.
  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:03PM (#25875781)

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/23/america/shuttle.php [iht.com]

    Hope they've got a good, strong blend!

  • by Jason1729 (561790) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:07PM (#25875841)
    Of course, since the space station inhabitants drink recycled urine, I'm still not totally convinced that I would want to try that cup. And just what do you think that fresh spring water or tap water you're drinking is? There's been life on this planet for 3 billion years, every drop of water has been recycled urine more times than your human brain is able to comprehend.

    The only real difference on the space station is that they do a much better job of purifying and testing the water than nature does.
    • by jambox (1015589) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:22PM (#25876029)
      I doubt there's been enough life on this planet drinking and p*ssing for long enough that you could state with any confidence that each and every water molecule on the planet had at one time passed through some creature?
    • by kmac06 (608921) on Monday November 24, 2008 @04:36PM (#25876997)
      OK since I'm a nerd I did some off-the-cuff, very approximate calculations. Say the total water consumption by living creatures is equivalent to 100 billion humans, who each consume a gallon a day, and have been doing so for a billion years. That gives (100 billion humans)*(1 billion years)*(1 gallon/human/day)*(365 days/year) = 3.65*10^16 gallons consumed. Compare this to the 3.26*10^17 gallons of water on the Earth.

      Given how wildly inaccurate I'm sure my assumptions are, I guess this doesn't really prove anything (other than that I'm a nerd). I was hoping there'd be like four order's of magnitude difference one way or the other.
      • by Omkar (618823)
        There are around 6 billion humans, so this would make the total water consumption equal to around 16 times the human population.

        I started out writing this post on how this number is way too low, but it's actually more reasonable than you might think. I do think it's off by an order of magnitude (but I thought it was off by at least 5).

        Assume water consumption is roughly proportional to mass. The rest is based on wiki Biomass article. From the "domestic biomass = 700 mill tonnes = 1% of earths biomass"
  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:11PM (#25875889) Homepage Journal

    Of course, since the space station inhabitants drink recycled urine, I'm still not totally convinced that I would want to try that cup.

    Wow, I guess Starbucks really is everywhere.

  • A coiled up plastic tube will achieve the same thing, but a sealed plastic sippy bag is probably still best.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:14PM (#25875921)

    If I were to drink from a cup in space, I'd need a really long straw.

  • pisswater coffee (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:14PM (#25875923)

    I'm still not totally convinced that I would want to try that cup.

    Char it and you'd never be able to tell it from Starbucks. Chill and carbonate it and it'll pass for Budweiser.

    • by StikyPad (445176) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:24PM (#25876053) Homepage

      If Budweiser tasted like carbonated urine, it would be a step up.

    • by SoupGuru (723634)

      What is the deal with Starbucks and their imitators burning their beans? Is it because it's expected people are going to be adding milk and sugar, etc to it? I like a nice black cup of coffee and as such, I find Starbucks pretty undrinkable.

      • What is the deal with Starbucks and their imitators burning their beans?

        I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one here that finds Charbux coffee to be over-roasted, burnt and bitter. However, all is not lost if that's the only "coffee" you can find. Add just a pinch of salt and the bitterness goes away. Still, if they made it properly you wouldn't have to do that, would you? It's just another example of how good advertising can sell crap.

      • by dkf (304284)

        What is the deal with Starbucks and their imitators burning their beans?

        It's also important what type of drink you're making from it. You need a different type of roast to make a good filter coffee from a good espresso (e.g. Italian roasts tend to be great for espresso, but don't drink filter coffee in Rome as they really don't understand it; the Nordic countries do far better at filter coffee). You may need a different roast if you're adulterating the coffee with milk or sugar or even just hot water.

        The other thing is whether the coffee is burnt during or after final making. I

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Char it and you'd never be able to tell it from Starbucks. Chill and carbonate it and it'll pass for Budweiser.

      There's not nearly enough hops in Budweiser to be as bitter as Starbucks coffee. Not by a long-shot.

      Cheers

  • Recycled water? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:14PM (#25875931)

    ALL water is recycled. Thirty thousand years ago a mammoth was pissing out the water that's sitting in your coffee urn this morning. People need to get over this, just like they need to get over irradiated food. It's at least as safe to drink as bottled water; And likely moreso since some bottled water undergoes no processing prior to being packaged. Did you know that the LA municipal water supply recycles its sewage into tap water? It's the nation's largest sewage processing station, and as a byproduct it produces several million tonnes of valuable fertilizer that's highly valued for use on the wineries in California. This isn't unique to California -- many coastal cities use similar measures because the rivers are too polluted and they're too close to sea level to find water reserves underground.

    • by StikyPad (445176) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:29PM (#25876133) Homepage

      Blasphemy! God constantly provides us with new water through his tears, AKA the rain, which adds mass to the planet daily. I suppose next you're going to try to tell us that clouds form through evaporation of the seas, or some such nonsense, despite the fact that clouds are EVERYWHERE, and the oceans would be dry by now if they were constantly evaporating.

    • People need to get over this, just like they need to get over irradiated food.

      What a stupid comparison. Purifying water is just a matter of removing the stuff that you don't want in it. Irradiating food means bombarding it with radiation that undoubtedly causes physical changes. Whether these changes are dangerous is a matter of controversy, and I won't pretend to know enough to have an opinion.

      What I do know is that I'm tired of people dismissing whole ranges of opinions because they're too lazy to distinguish serious arguments form the half-baked notions of a few idiots. By that l

    • I had read somewhere (must be true then...) that by the time Londoners got to drink water, it had passed through an average of 7 other people upstream of London.

      It was said to account for the good flavor and "softness" of London tap water, which does well in taste tests, and, in a separate article, for the sexual mutation of the fish in the river (from birth control pills apparently).
  • Rob, dude, you really should think about some of these stories a little more before posting them. We're all drinking urine (and other much more horrible things) each and every day. It's what those costly water treatment plants on Earth are responsible for filtering, and it's what those expensive systems for the ISS are designed for. What's the difference? Either way the if the coffee tastes good, and it's clean water that's used, I'm happy drinking it :)

  • "Taste like plain old piss to me." - Dr. Oliver Wendel Ludwig
  • But I wonder who did the A/B comparison.

    Maybe they just taste-tested the coffee against a cup from Starbucks.

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Monday November 24, 2008 @03:19PM (#25875979)
    "We've secretly replaced Buzz's cup of coffee with a batch of fresh urine recyc, let's see if he notices the difference..."
    • Or Sgt. Folgers' crystals?

      The Trek nerd in me wants to make jokes about Captain Kirk's Dilithium Crystals, but I'm exercising extreme restraint in this case. You're welcome.

  • The more I think about it, the more I believe it probably wouldn't be that tough to convert a standard travel mug design to be zero-G ready. Fit a thumb lever on the top of the handle (think beer stein) to operate a small hatch over the drinking hole, and a squeeze operated handle (think caulk gun) lever which ratchets a plunger up from the bottom of the mug, similar to upright toothpaste dispensers. Why am I pondering this...I need to get back to work.
  • ... in some SF novel or another. The design wasn't exactly the same, but the drinking vessel described used the same basic idea of surface tension wicking water out of the container. As the article noted, this is based on a common fuel-tank design. The story had an enclosed container because, well, even in free fall you've got to deal with the occasion fumble-fingered astronaut imparting acceleration to the container along an inappropriate vector. :)

    • by hitmark (640295)

      maybe you read something from this guy:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Keys_Moran [wikipedia.org]

      in there they drink coffee and other liquids from bulbs, kinda like a cross between a bottle and a pipette (thats the impression the books left me with at least).

  • Idle pepitotest coffee is science space story.

  • Next mission-- kopi luwak (cat poop) coffee made with filtered human urine water! talk about the cupping characteristics of that brew!
  • Surface tension inside the cup keeps the Iframes/JavaScript Tags: from floating out and running amuck.

    What the hell ?

  • Of course, since the space station inhabitants drink recycled urine, I'm still not totally convinced that I would want to try that cup.

    What the hell do you think they do with the urine you shoot into your toilet, you bloody cod?

  • the coffee drank you out of a straw.
  • You're soaking in it. We don't get NEW water, dude. Earth is just a huge recycling apparatus. You can't go very far without encountering a few molecules that you've peed or crapped out at some point in the past. Hell if you've ever gone swimming in a public pool or the ocean, that's a lot nastier than anything you're going to find on a NASA space station.
  • Don't look now, but you already drink recycled urine. Stuff goes down the drain, to water treatment, to lake or ocean or golf course. At this point, it evaporates. The water vapor aggregates as clouds, the clouds produce rain. The rain ends up in reservoirs or aquifers, whence comes drinking water.

    The cycle is just a little smaller in the space station.

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