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Space Technology

Space Coffee, Just the Way You Like It 147

Posted by samzenpus
from the good-to-the-last-floating-drop dept.
Zothecula writes "Since the early days of space travel, a consistent complaint has been lousy coffee. Now a group of freshman engineering students at Rice University have developed a simple approach to alleviating this problem. From the article: 'The challenge was to develop a method and equipment that allows astronauts to add liquid ingredients (cream, sweetener, and lemon juice) from a foil package to another that contains black coffee or tea. No spills in microgravity can be allowed, as these have a tendency to migrate into equipment and cause faults. The Rice freshmen designed their system around the existing black coffee pouches. NASA supplied them two-ply heat sealed pouches to hold the sugar syrup and cream. The beverage and condiment pouches all have a septum which allows access to their contents without allowing any of the liquid contents to escape.'"
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Space Coffee, Just the Way You Like It

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  • by madmarcel (610409) on Monday April 29, 2013 @06:20PM (#43585547)

    You put the Americans in charge of coffee?? I think I can spot the problem...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So, can I, you're racist.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 29, 2013 @07:43PM (#43586217)

      Putting Americans in charge of coffee? That's like putting the English in charge of tea.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        And here, kids, we have a perfect example for the use of the term 'non sequitur'.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Not really. While English culture is strongly associated with tea, the stuff people usually drink is actually quite vile. Shockingly so, if like me you are a tea-loving German who moved to the UK.

          Which undoubtedly is also the case with most of the coffee consumed in the states - if you actually genuinely love a good coffee.

      • by [000000] (130723)
        Hey don't Bring us Brits into the mix. Fight your own war.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 29, 2013 @06:20PM (#43585549)

    Colonies built on the moon: 0
    Hours spent designing perfect zero-g latte: 1000+
    Human race == fucked

  • Customize? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday April 29, 2013 @06:21PM (#43585555) Journal

    Given the expense of shipping people and supplies into orbit, and the fact that the people you are going to be shipping are generally known in advance, wouldn't it be substantially simpler just to ask them for their preferred beverage mixture and seal that in a single pouch?

    This isn't some sort of commercial aviation scenario, where the catering supplier has to do an approximate match against the uncertain tastes of 250 random passengers, which makes modular food much more sensible; or an MRE-type scenario where they have to stamp out a zillion of them and ship them wherever, so it just isn't practical to ensure that Pvt. SomeGuy gets exactly the combination he wants assembled at the factory and supply-chained out to him at firebase nowhere 18 months from now...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      But but your method deprives some 18 yr olds from feeling like they just solved the world's most important problem.

    • by gTsiros (205624)

      on the other hand, i can't imagine astronauts being so picky with their coffee. Or if drinking is a good idea, being an astronaut.

      maybe my mind is still 50 years back.

      • Re:Customize? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@car[ ]et.net ['pan' in gap]> on Monday April 29, 2013 @07:40PM (#43586185) Homepage

        Or maybe you just have silly stereotypes about astronauts, and likely coffee.

        So you think astronauts are not driven people who would gladly sacrifice their own body and long term health for the sake of the mission and being an astronaut? Do you really think coffee is that bad? I have worked in a major hospital and let me tell you....lots of Doctors and Nurses in that coffee line.

    • It is kind of a contrived situation, but its a decent system and there are probably more uses for it beyond this. Specifically with lab work.
    • You're forgetting that this system will work for more than just coffee.

      • Re:Customize? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Monday April 29, 2013 @10:50PM (#43587219) Homepage Journal

        Bingo!

        Everyone seems to be hung up on coffee, as though that were the ONLY liquid that might ever need to be mixed with another ingredient in zero gravity.

        Hello, everyone! The same methods used to add cream to coffee will likely work in scientific experiments, or mixing epoxy cements, or, preparing an acid solution, or - just about anything that requires two ingredients to be mixed.

    • by macraig (621737)

      I'm not even a rare-occasion coffee drinker so I'm hardly an expert on the chemistry, but might this be a situation similar to, say, two-part epoxy materials, where the desired result occurs at the time two compounds are mixed and doing that mixing prematurely leads to unacceptable consequences? Would coffee taste quite right if the additives were added weeks or months in advance of consumption?

      If the astronaut pool were large enough, it might be more cost effective to simply weed out those that had inconv

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Given the expense of shipping people and supplies into orbit, and the fact that the people you are going to be shipping are generally known in advance, wouldn't it be substantially simpler just to ask them for their preferred beverage mixture and seal that in a single pouch?

      That's not what I was thinking. I was thinking, wouldn't it be substantially simpler just to ask them to tough it out for a while and drink black coffee? I've done deep field work and yes, it sucks, being without the comforts of home, but a few sacrifices need to be made. This one seems pretty darn tiny.

    • by angiasaa (758006)

      Well, I for one have tastes that change from day to day. Almost every time I make my coffee (which is about 6 to 8 times a day), I change something around. It's not that I absolutely MUST have variations in my coffee. But there's little joy in having the same stuff over long periods of time.

      But you do have a very valid point. They're on duty 24/7 in the ISS, and they knew what they were getting into well in advance. A rough blend in their preferred proportions would be a much better idea.

      • by nschubach (922175)

        I'm totally opposite. I tend to find a flavor and have no problem eating the same thing day in and day out. When I drink coffee, I prefer it black and without variations of sugar or cream.

      • by nullchar (446050)

        I hope you're only making coffee 6-8 times a day for yourself and not "experimenting" with the break room coffee.

        And if you are making it only for yourself... that might be too much caffeine. How do you sleep at night?

        • by angiasaa (758006)

          Yes, yes, for myself. :) Though this is when I'm not at work. The coffee at work is not what I'd call awesome, but it's not so bad that I don't touch the stuff.
          I make my own coffee when I'm at home, so I was not counting the coffee at work, which is about 4 cups on a good day.. many more on a bad one.

          My caffeine intake is through the roof, but it soothes my nerves. I've suffered from insomnia since I was 14, and it was a really bad experience till I started having coffee when I was about 19 (Till then,

    • Yes, because I'm sure that astronauts want the exact same beverage mix every time, for three to six months straight.
      • by nschubach (922175)

        I generally drink the same concoction of syrup and carbonated water... been doing it for years. Usually out of a red and white aluminum can. Other than that, water, milk or black coffee. I assume they have more than just coffee available so I don't see why they can't pick a combination of sugars and cream for their coffee. I guess that's just me from the other posts here.

    • I'd mod every other +5 response in this entire thread (other than "funny" ones) "over rated".
    • As others have mentioned there are other applications for this method, but sticking to the Coffee demonstration premixing foods for consumption in space is a bit tricky. Things don't taste quite the same in zero G as they do in a gravity environment for most astronauts. While the basic parameters are fairly well know (less sugar than normal, more spices than normal, etc) tweaking it for individual tastes could be difficult. I believe the aspects of this also change depending on how long the astronaut is

    • I had the same thought. I'm sure they pay out of the nose for these package, why not insist they be customized to the preferences of the astronauts going on the trip?

      A good rule of them for going into a dangerous environment is to get as much shit done as you can outside of it. If things are so strange up there that it's best to precook all your food I think premixing your flavored beverages is worth the effort to.

    • You're assuming space travel will never be commercialized.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        You're assuming space travel will never be commercialized.

        That's because he's not a rabidly insane optimist/delusionist.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Starbucks that even Starbuck would like?

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      Starbucks that even Starbuck would like?

      Starbucks are probably kicking thenselves for not thinking of this first.

  • Coffee is better black and strong, without any additional ingredient.
    Otherwise it's not coffee, it's just sweetened water.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rmdingler (1955220)
      Agreed. In fact, the only difference between good coffee and bad coffee is about two hours first thing in the morning.
    • Coffee is better black and strong, without any additional ingredient.
      Otherwise it's not coffee, it's just sweetened water.

      Coffee in any form is disgusting. 34 years and still can't stand it.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Yes, if you like coffee drink it black so you can taste the coffee. If you don't like coffee why drink it at all? Adding milk and sugar to coffee just covers up the flavors of bad coffee. If you really want astronauts to drink good coffee, you need to figure out how to grind coffee beans in zero G, steep and filter them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'll drink coffee however the fuck I want to. Humans discovered a long time ago that combining different ingredients makes things taste different.. and taste is subjective. Some people just don't like it black, some do.

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          I'll drink coffee however the fuck I want to. Humans discovered a long time ago that combining different ingredients makes things taste different.. and taste is subjective. Some people just don't like it black, some do.

          Some people never develop beyond childish tastes, you are absolutely right. Just keep out of the grownups' room if you can't handle black coffee, cigars and whisky, junior.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes exactly! I've been arguing this for years. And it's not just coffee either. Every food should be eaten either in it's pure unmixed form, or not at all. Salt and ketchup on your fries? Guess you don't really like fries. Lemon aid? Why bother with the sugar, just drink lemon juice. Think you like salad? Not if you put dressing on it.

      • by nschubach (922175)

        I imagine grinding wouldn't be terribly hard. You couldn't use a gravity press, but pushing the beans against a grinder isn't all that difficult. Steeping can be handled with something like a French Press I would assume and filtering would be included in the press.

      • If you like chocolate, eat it without sugar or milk. You need to taste the cocoa. Eat it raw or go home.

        If you like vanilla, eat the bean straight; using it to *flavor* something else is stupid.

        I like coffee. I like it with cream and sugar. I like the flavor of coffee. Yes, it does have a flavor; I don't like drinking cream and sugar alone. In fact, I like the coffee to be brewed very strongly so that when I add the cream and sugar to adjust the flavor, I still get a strong coffee flavor.

        I can stand i

  • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday April 29, 2013 @06:39PM (#43585689) Homepage Journal

    Something I got a kick out of was when Michael Stackpole wrote out an elaborate Japanese Tea Ceremony in Zero-G in one of his BattleTech novels. He didn't have to, but it was great reading.

  • Am I the only one that is decidedly uncomfortable with drinking from anything with a septum?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't think you will ever have to use this invention, so don't worry about it.

      However, just in case you're a millionaire that's planning to pay for a ride on the ISS: septum is just a fancy word for partition.

    • The only thing I can think of is The Elder Scrolls' currency, hehe.
  • a consistent complaint has been lousy coffee. [...] allows astronauts to add liquid ingredients (cream, sweetener, and lemon juice)

    I almost choked reading up to this point... I recovered a little bit when I read further ;)

    • by kwark (512736)

      Read further:
      "to add liquid ingredients (cream, sweetener, and lemon juice) from a foil package to another that contains black coffee or tea."
      The lemon part is for the tea. Just like you don't add cream to tea, lemon to coffee makes no sense.

      Before my coffee addiction I used to add lemon to tea, it appears to be something eastern european.

      • by Cito (1725214)

        in London we like a spot of milk in our tea.

      • by Longjmp (632577)

        Read further:
        "to add liquid ingredients (cream, sweetener, and lemon juice) from a foil package to another that contains black coffee or tea."

        Why was that fuss about the blink tag? Sometimes you seem to need it:

        I recovered a little bit when I read further ;)

        No offense :)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I almost choked reading up to this point...

      Once upon a time, I was making some coffee and I wanted it to have an edge and some sweetness. I mixed milk and lemon juice into the cup, stirred and took a big gulp. Nearly died choking. The acidity of the lemon juice curdled the milk, and it tasted like hot vomit. Never mix (real) dairy with acidic stuff like lemon juice.

      On the bright side, if I ever need to make someone else lose a dare I'll know what to give them to drink.

      • by Longjmp (632577)

        On the bright side, if I ever need to make someone else lose a dare I'll know what to give them to drink.

        Try coffee with a spoon of salt instead of sugar (i.e. give them a "sugar bowl" filled with salt)

        Just be sure to film their faces :D

      • ...The acidity of the lemon juice curdled the milk, and it tasted like hot vomit. ...

        Dear diary, was reading Slashdot comments today. Guess what I learned never to do...

      • by radish (98371)

        Never mix (real) dairy with acidic stuff like lemon juice

        Unless you want buttermilk, because that's what you just made. But keep buttermilk in the pancakes, not the coffee :)

  • Sugar and cream are bad for you and ruin the taste of coffee.
    I don't know what to say about lemon juice since it sounds terrible in coffee.

    • by Tarlus (1000874)

      No true astronaut puts sugar in his coffee.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Sugar and cream are bad for you and ruin the taste of coffee. I don't know what to say about lemon juice since it sounds terrible in coffee.

      Dude, coffee is bad for you too.

      And as someone says above, you often get a twist of lemon with an espresso. .

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Now if only someone can figure out a method that allows astronauts to sip the coffee from an oversized mug, as God intended, they will really have accomplished something.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Now if only someone can figure out a method that allows astronauts to sip the coffee from an oversized mug, as God intended, they will really have accomplished something.

      Most astronauts aren't little girls trying to look cute.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've got another solution that's long over due. How about...

    Baristas...
        In...
            Space!

  • by dwywit (1109409) on Monday April 29, 2013 @06:57PM (#43585841)

    "No spills in microgravity can be allowed, as these have a tendency to migrate into equipment and cause faults. "

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMtXfwk7PXg [youtube.com]

  • And this research was funded by a generous grant from Starbucks? Spaceports in zero-g with a kiosk for my triple venti mocha while I wait for the flight to Mars. Now on to the baking dilemma.
  • Just the thing to pour into my space mug and drink with my space breakfast while I read my space newspaper.

  • Meanwhile the Russians used instant coffee .
    (Saying this as an owner of a fisher space pen).
    • by skine (1524819)

      I know that you're just making a joke, but it irks me when people laugh at the US for spending millions of dollars developing a pen that can be used in space.

      The real story being that Paul Fisher (owner of Fisher) invented the pen on his own, then sold it to both the US and Russian space programs. Both programs preferred the pens to the risk of broken pencils or pencil shavings floating into crucial equipment.

  • Or they could just man up and drink it black the way God intended.
    • So... eating the roasted beans then?
  • Seriously? I know they say, everything seems obvious in hindsight, but they really couldn't figure out squeezing sugar and creamer from one pouch into another coffe pouch? These guys design space ships? Am I the only one who sees something wrong here?

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      current astronauts are pussies, the ones of yore just drank the motor oil given to them and didnt whine about it

      its 2013 we have to have fucking starbucks provided to the government or else the fembots get offended

  • Here's my solution (This being /., I did not read the article. I stopped reading after the problem was described so I could solve it)

    3-chamber bag created w/that silvery plastic foil material, chambers created by a heat seal. Larger top compartment has black coffee (and pie-hole nozzle) and at the bottom, 2 small compartments side-by-side hold cream & sweetener. The top of each of the lower 2 chambers has a simple pressure-activated valve into the coffee chamber. You squeeze these to add desired amo
    • Hey! I thought of the same thing!
    • by rpstrong (1659205)

      The problem is weight. The coffee, creamer, and sweetener are all powdered, and weigh a fraction of their liquid versions. (Water on the space station is recycled, so you don't need to send additional water with every coffee pouch). Your three-way pouch would need additional ports for injecting water into the two extra compartments (the main coffee pouch, of course, already has a port). Also, the remaining sweetener or creamer isn't readily available - with the technique described above, the additives a

  • Drinking from a pouch is going to taste like crap regardless if it has no way for the aroma to escape. And there's something about holding a nice warm mug that makes it the morning comfort beverage.
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Drinking from a pouch is going to taste like crap regardless if it has no way for the aroma to escape. And there's something about holding a nice warm mug that makes it the morning comfort beverage.

      I prefer a pair of boobs, but each to his own.

  • There's coffee in that nebula!
  • Just give preference to people who drink plain black coffee.

    Then I would have a better chance of qualifying for space travel.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Just give preference to people who drink plain black coffee.

      Then I would have a better chance of qualifying for space travel.

      Yes, I'm sure that being able to drink black coffee will make all the difference.

  • That's the problem with a 30 year stagnate space program that cant even muster enough excitement to justify its existence anymore

  • You are floating above the Earth like Helios riding a chariot of fire across the sky. The greeks would have believed you a god atop Olympus. The blue earth turns below you, so captivating in its beauty that generations have marveled at the blue marble. The night sky is so full of stars it is dizzying in its beauty. You are participating in mankind's first steps to becoming immortal among them.

    But the coffee sucks.
    • by tehcyder (746570)

      You are floating above the Earth like Helios riding a chariot of fire across the sky. The greeks would have believed you a god atop Olympus. The blue earth turns below you, so captivating in its beauty that generations have marveled at the blue marble. The night sky is so full of stars it is dizzying in its beauty. You are participating in mankind's first steps to becoming immortal among them.

      Then the drugs wear off and you're a maintenance man on a rusty old tin can floating pointlessly in space.

  • I'm no zero G expert, but I would make my space coffee like this:

    1) Normal Aeropress
    2) tea bag coffee
    3) sponge containing 500ml hot water
    4) Travel mug, with attachment for aeropress, dump powdered sugar cream selection in to cup, attach press.
    4) Insert sponge
    5) Press.

    No spill, no dripage, no cleanup other than wipe down of aeropress.

    Why do we need science?

    • by rpstrong (1659205)

      Two problems: Weight and waste. As a composter, I'm fairly cognizant of the amount of coffee grounds produced for my own modest two mug a day habit. You not only need to deal with processing the used grounds, you also have to pay the cost of delivering them via rocketry - which makes overnight delivery options cheap in comparison.

      • by Zeromous (668365)

        Absolutely true, but I don't see this being resolved.

        • by rpstrong (1659205)

          Please elaborate. The powdered pouch system leaves the coffee grounds on earth. The powdered coffee is not only a fraction of the weight of the original beans, it is also totally consumed.

          Slightly off topic: My own coffee habit is based on my New Orleans roots; I was practically weaned on Bourbon and drip pot French Market coffee. I've switched to a 'normal' coffee maker, but I do have a French press which serves me well during power outages. I've never used an Aeropress, but it does look like an impro

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