Lifechanger: Astronaut Leroy Chiao’s Coffee Maker

Lifechanger: Astronaut Leroy Chiao’s Coffee Maker
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What was my Lifechanger? Hmmmm…iPhone? iPad? Macbook Pro? Let’s dig back a little deeper…Aeroplane? The1MB original-style Mac (with external 20 MB hard disk), on which I wrote my Ph.D. thesis? Radio Shack TRS-80? Nope, it was a coffee maker!

That’s right. I don’t believe the people who purport to have made it through university without coffee. I think they are playing a joke on the rest of us. They probably have their own 501(c)-3 and hold secret annual gala’s where espresso flows freely.

I had a few machines before, but the game changer was a Salton Three-for-All, that I acquired back in 1984. In addition to regular coffee, it could also brew espresso, and given a little talent for controlling the limited amount of steam it generated, one could also make a cappuccino of sorts. This machine served my roommates and me well during my graduate student days.

There was a near catastrophe when my Nuclear Engineering student roommate put the carafe directly on the gas stove to heat water for tea. He forgot about it and suffered a Loss of Cooling Accident (a LOCA, in Nuclear parlance). Fortunately the plastic handle only partially melted, and the carafe was still functional. A few more minutes, and we could have had a Three-Mile-Island situation.

Said carafe finally suffered a fatal accident years later. I wrote a letter to the Salton folks (an actual letter, as almost nobody had email back then, and no companies had anything called websites!), who generously sent me a replacement carafe, free of charge! The model I had was no longer in production, so it didn’t quite match. But, it worked just fine.

Just yesterday, I rescued my Salton from total loss. We had just moved out of a temporary house, and my wife (purportedly with my consent), left the unit there since we didn’t “need it” anymore. Fortunately, it was still there, and the landlords got it back for me. If for nothing else, it is remarkable that this baby is still ticking after constant use over twenty six years. I’m not about to abandon her now.

Leroy Chiao has flown on the Space Shuttle three times, spent six months commanding the ISS and logged over 36 hours walking in space. You can read more about him on his website along with more of his work here, from when he spearheaded Gizmodo’s Space Week.