Sisters, Betsy and Paige Lindell offer point, counter-point to the March 2015 tweet announcing espresso in space. Is it a step forward for mankind or a stumble?
Travel in Style
Caffeine is everywhere. It lives in plants. It flows through our veins. A mindful consumption of caffeine can elevate thought and social discourse. It is just a cup of coffee until it is an espresso in space. Then it is a testimony to the relentless creativity of mankind.
For most people in the Western world, the sense memory of coffee starts at birth. From the nurse’s station microscopic particles of coffee travel through the air to our infant noses. Since babies are obligate nose breathers, we inhale. From the first whiff, a memory is born. Or maybe a memory is reborn, our proclivity towards coffee pre-pressed into our DNA.
Sure, the smell of breast milk is arguably more important. Breast milk represents a life force while coffee stands for something else: the great unknown. Coffee is our calling card, the stiff flag we drive into the moon or whatever big idea we want to get on top of. Coffee is hope that renews itself each time we reach for a cup.
Which brings us to Sam Cristoforetti’s tweet. From her space shuttle, in luminescent health, Cristoforetti hoists a multi faceted cup to her lips filled with an earthly substance that could only be: Coffee: the finest organic suspension ever devised. Fresh espresso in the new Zero-G cup! As of May 3, 2015 on select space shuttles it is now possible to brew an espresso in space.
The true genius of the ISSpresso is in the cup design. It imitates the shape of a wing. Using the same engineering principles as a flight fuel tank, the cup delivers good to the very last drop. NASA explains the ISSpresso is as much about the study of capillary fluid physics as providing astronauts with an afternoon pick-me-up. One possible use of this technology is to deliver medicine in precise doses to people in unpredictable environments.
The world has taken notice, tweeting back with excitement. The gist of the reactions being: That is SO COOL! I tend to agree. In a world where oil companies can lease the ocean floor and satellites align weapons from space, humanity is better off if it takes time for an espresso. This machine is expensive. The manpower to design and manufacture it would certainly buy a few earthly coffee trucks but this is science! And scientific thinking that is not spent on militarization is good for mankind.
Espresso is designed for immediate consumption. The time it takes to enjoy this beverage creates an active pause. This pause or space creates room for thought and refinement of thought. Space for something joyful may create a burst of productivity and even innovation. Innovation is the key to not just surviving, it is the key to thriving in the future.
In space, every particulate of coffee is accounted for so smell is probably not the first sensation the astronaut will experience. Taste and mouth sensation will be followed swiftly by an altered brain chemistry, an elevated heart rate and increased adrenaline. Studies have linked increased adrenaline with the creation of deeper memories (a survival instinct for remembering the things that can kill us while we run for our lives: fight-or-flight). So its likely the astronaut may be a better observer for the duration of her forty-minute caffeine high. She may feel a deeper connection with the reality of what she is seeing: an uncommon sight that required the brightest minds to get her there.
Our earthly future is unknown. It is comforting to see a small fraction of science devoted to the pleasure and evolution of mankind.
Pleasure Craft or Space Station?
Paige Swenson Lindell
Space is a harsh environment, one that does not contain the necessary components to sustain human life. And so for our missions in space we must bring everything we need to survive for months at a time while gathering the information we need and doing the work that needs to be done. When we travel to the unknown there are restrictions. We cannot overburden the mule so to speak, or in this case, the spaceship.
The role of an astronaut is the role of the frontier explorer - it is incredibly difficult. The place where these weary travelers hang their hat is the international space station. At this fort in space, engineers have done their best to approximate a home. Similar in the way a tent approximates a home when you are camping. In its educational materials NASA likens the eating experience on this floating laboratory to a camping trip. Prepare accordingly for no refrigeration and be prepared to pack out your trash. And while NASA understandably wants to make the experience relatable, I think a better comparison would be the earliest explorers on earth. Preparing rations for space has no room for error. We must send astronauts with the nutrition they need to endure the rigors of their mission. There is no convenience store at the next way point. It is hard to believe we have grown so comfortable with this formidable task that we can now serve up this energy intensive 0 calorie beverage. Espresso is a far cry from cow boy coffee. Espresso in space is the opposite of “mission first” unless our mission is about creating a luxury class in space.
The space station is a refuge for space travelers from all cultural backgrounds - ones that recognize home and breakfast in diverse ways. For Italians, espresso is not the luxury item it is in the United States. But this is not ultimately the point, espresso is a product of an advanced society - one that can print and press metal. A cup of espresso is a product produced by 145psi of steam pressure - a reliable feat of electricity, gravity and water. Things that space does not contain.
But a lack of infrastructure has never stood in the way of the western world creating it out of thin air (or in thin air) for our pleasure. It is the march of progress that defines pleasure as necessity - harvesting the raw material of our pleasure from one place on earth and transporting it across the globe or interplanetary space. Coffee, itself, only grows in specific conditions - a jungle plant that requires heavy rains and high altitudes to prosper. It also requires a large amount of hand labor to harvest the tiny beans, ferment, dry and roast them. We have normalized this unnatural global migration. But the migration of the european preparation of espresso - through mechanized force - this is new. McDonalds just got espresso service two years ago, so I guess the next logical distributor was the international space station. It doesn’t matter that most domestic flights within the United States barely carry a palatable drip service.
Espresso is a product of equipment and energy, not unlike the coffee beans themselves. However, I imagine the explorers who first discovered coffee did not enjoy a peaceful morning cappuccino because plundering Africa and the Middle East for new riches and culinary thrills is hard work that requires sacrifice.