Italian-style espresso coffee has devotees around the world, with a growing number of people abandoning a regular cup of coffee for the thicker brew. Now, Italian coffee machine makers are working to create a device that will be able to produce espresso in weightless conditions on the International Space Station.
Many people cannot imagine life without coffee, and for most Italians, coffee means espresso, a thick brew prepared in a special coffee machine.
So, when Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the International Space Station earlier this month, her compatriots worried how she would survive there for six months, drinking only instant coffee.
"I believe that when working as an astronaut, a job in which you have to reason a lot, reflect, and be attentive, espresso is definitely very important," said one Italian.
To help Cristoforetti and other espresso lovers in orbit, the famed Turin-based coffee maker Lavazza and engineering firm Argotec, which specializes in making space food, joined forces to produce a coffee machine that would work at zero gravity.
"We had to figure out how to make coffee on the station exactly like we make it on earth. The other difficulty was complying with safety measures in order to qualify the machine as 'On-Board software' on the International Space Station," said Alberto Cabilli, R&D manager for Lavazza.
The machine, called ISSpresso, overcomes the absence of gravity by firing pressurized water through capsules of coffee. Cristoforetti took it with her for testing when she blasted off into orbit on November 23.
"The concept of this machine was for an experiment, so we started as a technology demonstration experiment, but NASA was very much interested in getting this machine and keeping it on the station most likely for a long time, not just to make a few coffees. So this means that most likely, if everything goes well, after this technology demonstration the machine will be kept at the International Space Station and be available for all the astronauts rotating on the station," said David Avino, Argotec’s managing director.
Italians consider themselves great connoisseurs of coffee, perhaps with good reason.
"We are very proud, not only as Italians but also as residents of Turin - the first espresso machine was created in Turin in 1884, so about 130 years ago. And today in 2014, another two Turin-based realities - Lavazza and Argotec - developed a machine that will bring espresso - not only across the world, but even in space," said Marcello Arcangeli, the head of Lavazza’s training center network.
Besides espresso, the ISSpresso machine is capable of preparing tea and clear soup.