How this astronaut invented a coffee mug for space

Don Pettit invents Zero G coffee cup to drink coffee in space

Don Pettit is an active NASA astronaut and is a veteran of two long-duration stays on the International Space Station — and he happens to be the inventor of the Zero-G coffee cup. Why? Because he didn't want to drink his morning cup of joe out of a straw and a bag.

Pettit invented the Zero-G coffee cup while he was in space. This allowed astronauts to drink liquids the same way as they do on Earth and has since gained the first-ever patent for an invention in space. We were lucky enough to have him on Fueled by Death Cast to talk about his invention, his time in space, and how he hopes to someday return to space. 

When talking about his time in space, he talked about missing the smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee, since coffee is usually served in a pouch with a straw.

"When you're drinking coffee from a bag through a straw you can't smell it," Pettit said. "So there's a huge decrease in the quality of enjoying your coffee, and of course the caffeine and needing to get jazzed, all of that is still there. But in terms of the smell impact of your coffee, that's almost zero in a weightless environment because you're drinking everything from a straw; through a straw from a bag. "

From there, he starting ideating a way that astronauts in space could enjoy coffee the same way they do on Earth. The main question: How do we make coffee in a weightless environment do that?

"We've been flying in space for 50 years and the only way to get your beverages, both Russian, and US, and European, and everybody that's gone into space; it's sucking through a straw from a bag. And this is where the second part of the invention was essential," Pettit said. "That had to do with surface chemistry."

In low-gravity environments like the ISS, fluids tend to get 'sticky' because of surface tension and capillary effects. Because of this, coffee tends to cling to the walls of the cup. The Zero-G coffee cup solves this problem by putting the behavior of fluid in microgravity to work. The liquid piles up at the lip of the cup and flows as you sip. It wouldn't work on Earth because of the scientific design behind it, but gives astronauts the fuel they need in space — and the ability to wake up and smell the coffee.

Listen to Don Pettit talk about the invention of the Zero-G coffee cup below, and listen to his full interview here

Related: Death Wish Coffee sends coffee to the International Space Station