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Article  •  19 October 2017


Cuppas in space

In Ask an Astronaut, Tim Peake reveals the niceties of space life.

What question would you most like to ask an astronaut? How fast is the Wi-Fi on the International Space Station? Can you see China’s Great Wall? And, naturally, how does one go to the toilet in space? Since astronaut Tim Peake returned from his historic Principia mission, he’s been inundated with questions about space life, so he’s gathered them in a book. Ask an Astronaut is Tim’s personal guide to life in space. Here he answers a question near and dear to so many of our hearts.

Q: Can you drink a cup of tea in space? – Katie Loughnane

A: This is essential information for any British astronaut, and you’ll be pleased to know that yes, we can enjoy a cuppa in space! Actually, NASA lets us choose three hot drinks each day, which are tailored to our liking. I decided on two teas and one coffee. The good news was that NASA was able to certify my favourite brew fit for space travel. I’m a fan of Yorkshire Red (good builder’s tea) and so, having passed the rigorous microbiological testing, my teabags were vacuum-​sealed in a foil pouch (which serves as our drinking vessel), along with powdered creamer (‘Heresy,’ I hear you cry, but that was the only option) and a bit of sugar. To enjoy our hot drinks, all we needed to do was add hot water to the foil pouch from the Potable Water Dispenser (PWD) and sip it through a straw. We cannot drink from an ordinary cup or a mug because unfortunately in microgravity the hot liquid would just float away and cause a terrible mess!

When I was told about this tea-​drinking process prior to flight, one immediate problem that sprang to mind was: how can you control the strength of the brew? It would be too weak to drink immediately, but by the end of the drink you would be sucking on a tea bag (ugh!). So, with a bit of tweaking, I was able to modify a drinking straw into a transfer tube that would allow me to let the tea stew to perfection, then transfer it to an empty foil pouch, so that I could enjoy drinking it at my leisure. All things considered, it tasted pretty good, for a brew made with creamer and yesterday’s recycled urine!

NASA astronaut Don Pettit went one step further in 2008 when he designed a low-​gravity coffee cup for use during his mission. Don is quite simply a genius. He used mathematical modelling to determine the precise shape of a cup that would enable the fluid to be contained in microgravity, without spilling the contents all over the space station. The cup has a corner with a sharp angle, which, due to the surface tension of the fluid, acts like a wick and directs it towards the astronaut’s mouth. When you go to drink your coffee or tea, a capillary connection is formed and – hey presto – you can sip your hot drink in space! Whilst I did try this a couple of times for fun, I was never comfortable leaving a cup of hot liquid stuck to the wall with Velcro, so usually I would opt for the much safer option of a foil pouch instead.

Ask an Astronaut Tim Peake

The awe-inspiring Sunday Times Bestseller from astronaut Tim Peake

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