Drinking beverages from a plastic bag just isn't a proper way to be social with your astronaut colleagues. But since the dawn of spaceflight, that's the only way people in orbit could take a drink — until now.
A new zero-gravity coffee cup now lets astronauts get a literal handle on their beverages. It looks kind of like a giant nose with a handle, a design that's almost entirely informed by the physics needed to keep liquid inside.
"We actually don't have too much input to that shape," says Mark Weislogel, a senior scientist at IRPI, an Oregon-based technology company, and a professor of mechanical engineering at Portland State University in Oregon. "There's no up, no down, so we're using the properties of the shape. ... So, hey, we're stuck with it."
Weislogel helped develop the cup, which uses capillary flow — the ability of a liquid to flow in narrow spaces without the assistance of gravity, and even in opposition to it — and a specially shaped design to control the surface tension