A dozen bottles of French wine arrived at the International Space Station this week as part of a NASA project to discover how they will age in space.
The wines flew aboard a Northrop Grumman capsule on Saturday and arrived at the orbiting lab on Monday.
They was sent up by Luxembourg start-up Space Cargo Unlimited and will be aged at the ISS for a year before being sent back to the company. Researchers will then study how weightlessness and space radiation affects the ageing process.
According to NASA, wine samples taken from the same batch will be stored here on earth and the results will be compared when the space station wine is returned.
“Essential changes on the physics and chemical reactions of the multi-component liquid in microgravity are expected,” NASA noted.
“This knowledge has potential applications for enhancing the taste and smell of food products.”
As for its space applications, NASA added: “Future long-duration space missions require storing food and medicines for long periods of time, which may affect the nutrition and taste of the former and the potency of the latter.
“Learning more about how the space environment acts on complex liquids could lead to improved storage methods that reduce potential negative effects. For example, previous studies suggest that resveratrol, a component of wine, may limit the effects of space radiation.”
However, winning NASA approval to fly the wine wasn’t easy, according to Quartz.
Jeffrey Manber, whose company Nanoracks was hired by Space Cargo Unlimited to prepare its experimental payload for its rocket flight, said: “What do you do if the bottles break? “We had to prove that it would be safe. It was a very difficult project.”
Each bottle was packed in a metal canister to prevent breakage.
A future mission will send grape vines to the ISS to study how they grow in that environment.
It’s hoped the research will unlock new winemaking techniques and help efforts to breed hardier plants to adapt to changing climate conditions or fight off disease and parasites.
Not the first NASA booze in space
This week’s cargo isn’t the first alcohol to head into space. A French astronaut took a bottle of wine aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1985 and remained unopened while the craft was in orbit.
Meanwhile, AB InBev announced a “Bud on Mars” initiative with the aim of becoming the first brewery in space in 2017.
The company revealed the plans to research and build a Budweiser microgravity brewery on Mars at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.
It has already sent barley seeds to the ISS in preparation for the mission.
Ardbeg also sent vials of Scotch whisky to the ISS in 2011.
“After two years on the station, they seem to have aged five years in colour and taste,” Manber reports.