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In February 2003, after the explosion of the shuttle two American astronauts aboard the International Space Station suddenly found themselves with no ride home. And things got worse from there.

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  1. THE COFFEE, HE THINKS. THE COFFEE’S A CONCERN.

    Only one hundred single-serving pouches of instant were allotted for him on Expedition Six, stowed in the galley in a metal drawer with a black net stretched over its mouth to make sure the pouches wouldn’t float away. But for all the care in the universe, it’s been more than two months since the shuttle delivered him and his coffee to the International Space Station, and there aren’t one hundred pouches in that drawer anymore.

    Looking out his window at the orbital sunrise, Donald Pettit, the mission’s science officer, finishes taking mental stock of the supply and decides, Jeez, this is the sort of morning coffee was made for. He puts on his glasses, pulls himself out of the sleeping bag that he’s anchored to the wall, pushes his way out of his private quarters—about the size of a phone booth, in Destiny, the last link in the station’s chain of modules—and finds his center of gravity. With it, he propels himself in clean, practiced movements, like a swimmer who’s found his stroke, toward the other end of the station, a couple of modules and a little less than 150 feet away. There, his commander, Captain Kenneth Bowersox, and the Russian flight engineer, Nikolai Budarin, lie zipped away, still asleep. Pettit opens the metal drawer and takes out a pouch, a silver bag with powder packed hard into the bottom of it. He fills it with hot water that was once his breath and begins hunting for a straw.

    Everything is always taken th...

Originally published in Esquire, July 2004