NASA astronaut Don Pettit loves his coffee. So it comes as no surprise that he found a way to drink coffee from a cup, instead of the traditional straw, on his day off Sunday aboard the International Space Station.
Drinking any liquid in the weightless environment of space could be a messy affair. With hot coffee, it could be a potentially scalding affair. So astronauts use silver pouches and plastic straws to sip anything from water to orange juice to Pettit's beloved space java.
"We can suck our coffee from a bag, but to drink it from a cup is hard to do because you can't get the cup up to get the liquid out, and it's also easy to slosh," Pettit told Mission Control while sending a video of his new invention to Earth.
Pettit arrived at the space station last week aboard the shuttle Endeavour, which is delivering a recycling system that converts urine into drinking water and other new gear to outfit the space station for large, six-person crew.
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.
"This may very well be what future space colonists end up using when they want to have a celebration and do a toast," Pettit said.
Pettit is no stranger to space invention.
During his first spaceflight as the space station's Expedition 6 science officer in 2002/2003, he was renown for his Saturday Morning Science efforts and tinkering with broken hardware. He told SPACE.com before launching aboard Endeavour that he hoped to hunt down his favorite tools, stowed away in a so-called Strange Tool Bag, when he returned to the space station.
It was during his Expedition 6 mission that Pettit packed along enough instant coffee to tide him over during his long-duration mission in space. Drinking coffee through a bag pales in comparison to the comfort of a real cup, he said.
"You can enjoy a cup of coffee in a weightless environment without having to sip it from a bag," Pettit said. "You can just keep sipping and sipping clear down to the last drop in the cup."