Welp, we’re officially launching wine into space. And technically, we’ve done it before - just not at the same scale. In 1985, Chateau Lynch-Bages had a bottle of their 1975 vintage wine on NASA’s Discovery shuttle. The 5th Discovery mission was a collaboration between America and France, and the bottle was brought as a symbol of national pride - it was rumored that the Americans were bringing along Coca-Cola and French payload specialist Patrick Baudry wanted to ensure he had France's unofficial national drink accounted for.
Fast-forward to last week, a case of wine that's been aboard the ISS for over 12 months, officially returned to Earth on SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule, splashing down in the Gulf of Mexico on January 13th.
Dubbed Mission WISE, this is the first privately led research program on the ISS. The initiative was launched by Space Cargo Unlimited (SCU), a European start-up founded in 2014 by private investors and space enthusiast entrepreneurs. They hope that insights gleaned from these microgravity (the absence of gravity) experiments will help develop innovative solutions to stresses on agriculture, like climate change. The case of wine was accompanied by 320 sections of grapevine or vine canes. The identity of the bottles themselves is being kept secret, but are reported to be from a single producer and one vintage. The vine canes were a mix of 160 Cabernet and 160 Merlot. #fancy
Now that the bottles and vine canes are safely back on planet Earth, the real fun begins. The primary goal of the study will be to examine the effects of the unique conditions present in space - specifically, space radiation and microgravity on the wine and vine canes, and how they've changed during their time in orbit. As the company stated in a press release about the experiment, "Wine making and maturation is an extremely relevant multi-component biological process involving key elements such as yeast, bacteria, crystals, colloids, and polyphenols. Very little is known about how the taste and chemical composition of wine is affected during the aging process. Space Cargo Unlimited will investigate how space radiation and microgravity affect wine components during the aging process. This could yield results that help in understanding taste enhancement and food conservation".
As climate change continues to intensify, crops will need to adapt to increasing stress factors and harsher conditions. Through experiments and research like this, researchers hope to develop practices and solutions that could yield more resilient crops and agricultural practices.
The bottles will be uncorked at the end of February and the SCU team has invited expert wine tasters to sample the contents. After the human taste-testing, months of chemical and biological analysis of the wine will follow. The vine canes will be analyzed and compared to control samples, which remained on Earth.
SCU has plans in the works for future experiments to continue to study the effects of space conditions on the fermentation of bacterias and yeasts - space-beer, anyone?
Image by Rodrigo Abreu