November 27, 2008 / 8:06 PM / 10 years ago

Shuttle astronaut invents zero-gravity cup

Space Shuttle Endeavour astronauts Don Pettit (L) and Stephen Bowen drink after making a Thanksgiving toast from aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in this November 27, 2008 image from NASA TV. REUTERS/NASA TV

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - Future space travelers may be drinking their own urine, thanks to the International Space Station’s new water recycler, but they can now do so with a touch of class.

Endeavour astronaut Don Pettit, a self-described tinkerer who served as the space station’s flight engineer in 2003, invented a zero-gravity cup that wicks liquids along the sides of a piece of folded plastic, eliminating the need for a straw.

Because liquids typically form spherical blobs in weightlessness, astronauts drink from sealed pouches using straws. Pettit, a huge coffee fan, didn’t like sipping his java, and created the cup from a sheet of transparent plastic used in overhead projectors by folding it into the shape of an airplane wing and taping it in place.

“The way this works is the cross-section of this cup looks like an airplane wing. The narrow angle here will wick the coffee up,” Pettit explained in a video radioed to NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston and broadcast on NASA TV.

“We can sip most of the fluid out of these cups and we no longer have to drink our beverages sucking through a straw in a pouch,” Pettit said.

On Thursday, Petit made another cup for crewmate Stephen Bowen and proposed a toast to the Thanksgiving holiday, space exploration and “just because we’re in space and we can.”

One of the Shuttle’s main mission was to install a $250 million water recycling system enables the Space Station crew to recycle urine and other wastewater into drinking water.

The astronauts were scheduled to share a Thanksgiving meal of dehydrated turkey with their space station hosts before closing the hatches between the two ships in preparation for Endeavour’s departure on Friday.

The shuttle, which delivered a water-purification system to the station among other gear, is due back at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday after a 16-day mission.

Editing by Sandra Maler

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