Morning Joe in Space: MoMA Acquires Capt. Samantha Cristoforetti’s Coffee Cup

By Paola Antonelli with Michelle Millar Fisher (Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, MoMA)

Don Pettit. Coffee Cup for Astronauts. 2008. Glazed earthenware, 2 5/8 x 3 3/8 x 2 1/8" (6.7 x 8.6 5.4 cm). Gift of Samantha Cristoforetti. Study Collection

How do you take yours? If you’re a coffee drinker (and the likelihood is that you are, given world coffee consumption statistics) you probably have a very specific method for creating your perfect cup, whether it’s the exact bean or sweetener used, the ratio of dairy to caffeine, or the temperature. The container that your morning joe comes in? That’s often an afterthought…unless, of course, you happen to be Italian, or an astronaut. In this latter case, to make the most of your coffee you need a very particular type of vessel — one adapted to the behavior of liquids in zero gravity. We’re excited to announce that MoMA’s collection now includes such a coffee cup, designed by engineer and astronaut Don Pettit and donated by Captain Samantha Cristoforetti.

Don Pettit. Coffee Cup for Astronauts. 2008. Glazed earthenware, 2 5/8 x 3 3/8 x 2 1/8" (6.7 x 8.6 5.4 cm). Gift of Samantha Cristoforetti. Study Collection

Cristoforetti is an Italian European Space Agency astronaut, a pilot in the Italian Air Force, an engineer, and a well-documented lover of coffee. Among her many accomplishments, on May 3, 2015, she became the first person to brew coffee in space, using the experimental (and wonderfully monikered) ISSpresso machine — named for the International Space Station. Once it was brewed, Cristoforetti proceeded to consume her coffee with gusto, and careful maneuvering, using the zero-G coffee cup — a ceramic prototype of which she then gifted to MoMA’s design collection. The cup’s biomorphic shape, which helps navigate the precious drops of caffeine up and arc them into an astronaut’s mouth, reminds us of the work of several giants of organic design history, from Frederick Kiesler to Eva Zeisel and Russel Wright. Chapeau, Doctor Pettit & team, you are in great company!

Mark Weislogel, a physics professor at Portland State University and an expert on the temperament of fluids in space, suggests it’s quite difficult to move the coffee from brewing device to cup to an astronaut’s mouth. Weislogel — who designed the zero-G coffee cup alongside Pettit and mathematicians Paul Concus and Robert Finns — describes the phenomenon where “two solid surfaces meet at a narrow-enough angle, fluids in microgravity naturally flow along the join.” Their coffee cup creates such a scenario by way of a sharp interior corner, which attracts a flow of coffee and channels it to the astronaut’s lips. The cup is part of a much larger set of experiments in space to understand the movement and manipulations of fluids of all kinds.

Cristoforetti’s tweet celebrating the historic moment says it all. Wearing her Star Fleet uniform, she paid homage to iconic words from sci-fi history when she declared that she was “to boldly brew…” where no person had brewed before and recalled lines that every Star Trek: Voyager fan would instantly recognize (her reference to coffee as “the finest organic suspension ever devised”):

MoMA’s collection is already home to many coffee-related designs, including the Java sleeve (1993), the Chemex Coffee Maker (1941), and several iconic coffee tables (including examples by Charles and Ray Eames and Mies van der Rohe):

Clockwise from top left: Peter Schlumbohm. Chemex Coffee Maker. 1941. Pyrex glass, wood, and leather, 9 1/2 x 6 1/8" (24.2 x 15.5 cm). Manufacturer: Chemex Corp., New York, NY. Gift of Lewis & Conger; Jay D. Sorensen. Java Jacket Cup Sleeve. 1993. Recycled paper, 11 x 2 1/2" (30 x 6.5 cm). Manufacturer: Java Jacket, Inc. Gift of Java Jacket, Inc.; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. MR Coffee Table (This example manufactured 1976). 1927. Chrome-plated tubular steel and glass, 19 3/4 x 29" (50.2 x 73.7 cm). Manufacturer: Knoll International, Inc., New York, NY. Gift of Knoll International Inc., USA. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; Charles Eames, Ray Eames. Coffee Table. 1946. Molded wood top and steel rod legs, 15 3/4 x 34 1/4" (40 x 87 cm). Manufacturer: Evans Products Co., Molded Plywood Div., Venice, CA. Gift of the designer

MoMA’s collection also houses a truly compelling array of works dedicated to all things extraterrestrial — little surprise given the modern human fascination with space, planets, and the moon. As one example, in the current cross-department exhibition From The Collection: 1960–1969, visitors will find a small gallery dedicated to 1969 which contains a constellation of works that explore the first moon landings. The gallery includes newly acquired NASA photographs of the Apollo 11 mission, a large screenprint by Robert Rauschenberg from his Stoned Moon series which celebrated the historic achievement of the first moon landing, and Forrest Myers’s Moon Museum, claimed by the artist as the first ever “space art.”

However, the zero-G cup is the first object in our collection designed expressly for extraterrestrial use. Keep it in mind the next time you reach for your own cup of coffee — be it paper, portable, or porcelain. The view might not be as spectacular as it is from the International Space Station, but at least gravity is working in your favor when you take a sip!

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