Coffee in space: A complete history (pictures)

An espresso machine tailored specially for the International Space Station caps a long love affair between astronauts and caffeine.

Leslie Gornstein
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Coffee in space

Astronauts haven't always had hot coffee in space. But where there's a will (or just a caffeine addiction) there's a way.

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One jittery step for mankind

The year 1969 was a big one not only for space exploration but also for coffee enjoyment. The Apollo 11 mission was the first manned space effort to offer hot coffee to its astronauts.

(Is it just us, or does the name Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin take on new meaning?)

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Different tastes

Each Apollo 11 astronaut reportedly liked his coffee a different way; Neil Armstrong is said to have liked his sweet while on his mission.

To this day, NASA still provides instant coffee in a variety of ways, including with creamer and sugar.

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Water problem

The reason why earlier astronauts couldn't get real coffee? Hot water. Before the Apollo 11 mission, there simply wasn't any onboard space shuttles or orbiters.

In this photo from 1982, a pilot on the orbiter Columbia enjoys water from an onboard dispenser.

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Onizuka's legacy

A major advance for coffee-loving space explorers came from one particular astronaut: Ellison Onizuka. In the 1980s, he suggested that space missions provide a Kona blend of coffee from his home state of Hawaii -- and NASA obliged.

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New breed

Onizuka died during the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. But his suggested Kona blend, Hula Girl from the Royal Trading Coffee Co., is still provided to NASA astronauts.

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To Russia with love

NASA provides a small "bonus" package of American foods as a courtesy to Russian cosmonauts whenever it sends up victuals for its astronauts. The American food item most requested by Russians? Our Kona coffee. (Cosmonauts prefer tea from their home country, however.)

This photo from 2003 shows a Russian cosmonaut (left) and a US science officer eating in front of the all-important hot-water dispenser onboard the International Space Station.

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Here comes ISSpresso

In April 2015, ISS crew members got a new treat: an espresso machine made especially for the space station, tested the previous year.

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Still an experiment

NASA considers the ISSpresso machine to be more of an experiment than a luxury. With luck, similar machines will produce other hot beverages in the future, such as broth.

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It's complicated

The new ISSpresso machine comes with unique space-friendly quirks: water is injected from a pouch into the machine; passed though a cartridge much like a K-Cup; and then pushed out, piping hot, from a separate valve.

After every three to four cups, ISS crew members will have to clean the machine.

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Drink up

ISSpresso coffee is pushed out of the machine and into a pouch designed for use in zero gravity.

Astronauts typically drink their beverages from pouches with straws while in space.

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Sky-high baristas

Another treat for coffee lovers arrived on the same shipment as the ISSpresso: a cup designed for use in zero-g.

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Space cuppa

The cup must use a tool other than gravity, surface tension,  to keep liquid where it belongs.

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Familiar shape

The zero-g coffee cup, modeled here by astronaut Don Pettit, is shaped like an aircraft wing. That shape helps keep moisture from escaping into places it shouldn't be...say, a delicate science experiment onboard the ISS.

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As astronaut Don Pettit shows us in this video still from 2008, space explorers can drink from the cups in zero-g. But...

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That darned zero-g

...they still have to fill them using the ol' envelope and straw.

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Not a fit

Since hearing about the new ISSpresso machine and its use of K-Cup-like capsules, coffee companies have been begging NASA for the opportunity to provide K-Cups for ISS crew. One small problem: typical K-Cups won't fit in the unique ISSpresso machine.

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