Inside Italy's Noble Quest to Make Better Space Coffee

Being an astronaut has its perks, but physical comfort is not one of them. Forgoing a decent cup of coffee is tough for cosmic explorers of all nationalities, but for Italians, consuming dreadful space espresso is practically torture. So Italy decided to get serious with this astro espresso crisis. By combining the resources of an Italian aerospace firm, a coffee company and the Italian Space Agency itself, the country has successfully produced a machine that turns out espresso that’s at least an entire letter grade above the current instant stuff.

Progress in Space Food

Yes, the space cuisine of today is vastly superior to that of yesteryear. Gone are the days of squeeze tube sustenance paste and gelatin-coated food cubes. Now space cadets consume the same sorts of foods we have on Earth—fajitas, spaghetti, fruit, brownies—just less-appetizing versions that are frozen, dehydrated or otherwise de-crumbified (can’t have floating food bits clogging machinery, can we?). The International Space Station is even experimenting with growing its own fresh produce—taste quality unclear. So the food still sounds awful, but less awful. Progress!

It is in that vein that engineers have constructed their machine that makes bad, but less bad space espresso to satiate astronauts’ caffeine addiction. How did this marvel of not-unpalatable space coffee come to be? Turns out it took a lot of ingenuity.


Earthly coffee machines are utterly dependent on gravity—a luxury that space doesn’t afford. So it’s a challenge to keep scalding water contained inside the machine, and funneled in the correct direction.

Sanitation is another issue. The International Space Station has no sink for washing up, and liquid left over in the machine could spoil easily in space conditions and become unhealthy.

And then there’s taste. Espresso requires particular pressure and temperature, and the balance is tough to achieve in space. Again, the lack of gravity means temperature doesn’t get evenly distributed in the water—making the brew nasty tasting and creating dangerously hot portions of water.


A no-holds coffee bot. It’s got steel tubes to move the water properly, and it’s equipped with a number of precise temperature controls. These impressive additions make the machine over 40 pounds in weight, but well worth it. The lack of gravity makes it way lighter-feeling anyway.

Coffee of the Future

Unfortunately, astronauts will still have to drink the espresso from a sippy pouch so the liquid doesn’t float away. This means the foam topping will probably spread around the whole pouch, and the space sippers won’t get the sensory benefit of whiffing the coffee’s smell. The sacrifices one makes to boldly go where few have gone before.

Sadly the machine won’t go to the Space Station until next year. But if all goes well, the espresso creation could become a permanent fixture. But will the Italians share their newfound espresso wealth with other caffeine-deprived nationalities? This could start a serious international incident.

Image: ThinkStock

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