Astronauts who live on the International Space Station work hard. They don’t really have a choice in the matter since they live at the office. They conduct science experiments, work hand-in-hand with researchers back on Earth, and perform vital maintenance on the orbiting laboratory to ensure it continues to function as needed.
When they finally get some downtime, their options for leisure activities are slim, so you’d expect that a recent supply mission that delivered a dozen bottles of red wine would be a cause for celebration. Unfortunately for the high-flying scientists, they’re not allowed even a sip.
The are many obvious risks of getting boozed up in space. Just like on Earth, becoming tipsy while in the space station could result in injury or perhaps even accidental damage to the spacecraft itself.
So, why the wine? Well, it’s actually part of a science experiment to determine what affects zero gravity and radiation might have on the delicate processes that give a wine its flavor as it ages. If yeast or bacteria present in the wine behave differently in space, it could result in entirely new kinds of wine with unique flavors.
The wine will spend roughly a year in space before being sent back to Earth Once it returns, researchers will study it and compare it to wine of the same age that remained on Earth. This should give scientists a good idea of how the trip changed the beverage.
All samples have the same amount of liquid in order to maximize the similarities between space and ground control conditions, and result differences may specifically pertain to microgravity and radiation. Temperature control is of paramount importance. Samples are kept at 18°C (+/-2°C) at all times on the ground and in space, as this is the optimal temperature for aging wine. Bottles must remain uninterrupted throughout the 12 months.
The crew of the space station is more than welcome to celebrate with a nice glass of red once they arrive back on Earth. In the meantime, they’ll just have to control their temptation.