Crested Butte, CO

Colorado-based First Ascent instant coffee fuels an astronaut adventure in outer space

Morgan Tilton

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First Ascent offers three varieties of handcrafted instant coffeePhoto by First Ascent

A four-member NASA astronaut crew blasted skyward from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week—with a special taste of Colorado in their cargo.

Inside the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule spacecraft, the crew brought along 256 eight-ounce servings of coffee from First Ascent, a boutique whole-bean coffee roaster based in Crested Butte, Colorado.

Colorado coffee for the SpaceX Crew-5 mission

The SpaceX Crew-5 mission will be fueled by packets of First Ascent’s Dawn Patrol Handcrafted Dark Roast blend, which is a fresh frontier for the speciality roaster.

Crew-5 will adventure in space for up to six months, aboard the International Space Station (ISS), before returning Earthside in the spring of 2023.

The crew will conduct scientific studies to lay the groundwork for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit.

“In August 2021, I received an email asking if we could do large batches of coffee,” said Sam Higby, co-owner of First Ascent, in a statement.

“It seemed like a fairly generic question and sales lead until I noticed the ‘nasa.gov’ domain name, which definitely piqued my curiosity,” Higby said.

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First Ascent Dawn Patrol will be enjoyed by astronauts in outer space at the International Space StationPhoto by First Ascent

What inspired the coffee collaboration

Outreach to First Ascent was catalyzed by the low-quality instant coffee options that were currently available at the Space Food Systems Laboratory, according to Higby.

The lab supports the production and development of flight food, menus, packaging, and food-related hardware for NASA programs including 6-month trips to ISS.

The SpaceX Crew-5 members include NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

The team reached the ISS, where they joined seven other astronauts from Expedition 68, on October 6, 2022.

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First Ascent specializes in to-go packets of speciality coffeePhoto by First Ascent

First Ascent coffee packets for adventure

First Ascent has set the industry standard for instant coffee that’s tasty, fresh, and organic, which comes in single-pour packets.

All of the company’s roasting, brewing, freeze-drying, and packaging is completed on site in Southwest Colorado.

Founders Allison and Mark Drucker and Sam Higby have focused on a mission to create excellent instant brew since they founded the business in 2018, following a First Ascent cafe that the Drucker couple owned.

The packets are convenient for outdoor adventures whether folks are road-tripping or dawn patrolling for a ski tour, mountain bike ride, or rock climb.

Now, the single servings have reached an entirely new height with travelers to outer space more than 62 miles above the earth.

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First Ascent roasts and packages their coffee in Southwest ColoradoPhoto by First Ascent

First Ascent: award-winning coffee packets

The business has been met by praise, so it’s not surprising that NASA commissioned First Ascent for the provisions.

By 2020, First Ascent was voted as the best single-pour, packaged coffee on the market in a SNEWS reader poll, which they won by a landslide with 46% of votes among competitors. SNEWS was rebranded as Outside Business Journal in 2021 and is the oldest trade and business news source for the outdoor industry, founded in 1984.

Backpacker Magazine voted the coffee brand as number one among a side-by-side test of four companies. Outside Magazine named First Ascent the “Best All-Around Instant Coffee,” and Barista Magazine lauded the coffee company.

Also in 2020, the small company received a $250,000 business grant from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade to invest in a commercial freeze dryer that would increase weekly production eight-fold.

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First Ascent is branded around outdoor adventure and travel now including outer spacePhoto by First Ascent

How to drink coffee in outer space

Without gravity, astronauts will not be able to simply pour hot water and instant coffee into a cup.

Instead, all of the instant coffee grounds are repackaged into individual foil pouches with a valve on one end. The pouches are stored in a locker.

To consume a cup of coffee, an astronaut applies a straw to add hot water and shakes the pouch before taking a sip.

“It’s a pretty amazing feeling knowing that astronauts are going to be sipping our coffee at the International Space Station,” said Higby in a statement.

He added, “We’ve all wondered what it would be like to go to outer space. Now in our own way, we get to be there.”

The Crew-5 crewmembers will return earthside, landing in the ocean off the coast of Florida, later in October.

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Adventure journalist Morgan Tilton covers the outdoors with a focus on travel, industry news and human endurance. Featured in more than 70 publications, she’s a recipient of more than a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards.

Crested Butte, CO
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