The International Space Station (ISS) receives thousands of pounds of supplies every month. These range from food and daily necessities for astronauts to unique science experiments sent up from Earth. On Monday, TechCrunch reported that an unusual payload just made its way to the floating laboratory.
Twelve bottles of red wine arrived at the ISS courtesy of a European startup called Space Cargo Unlimited. Unfortunately for the astronauts aboard, the wine isn’t for drinking. Instead, it will be used to test how microgravity affects the aging process.
Most people don’t think about the work that goes into making the wine they drink. However, it’s actually a highly scientific endeavor. While winemakers typically stick to testing their varietals on Earth, this new experiment might change that.
Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft carried a dozen bottles of red wine to the ISS along with more than 8,200 pounds of other supplies. Those samples will remain in their bottles for twelve months to age. The wine will be kept at 64 degrees Fahrenheit and left undisturbed while the biologically complex process takes place.
Meanwhile, a dozen bottles of wine from the same batch will remain on Earth in the same conditions to age for the same length of time. The only difference between the two processes will be the effect of gravity.
The researchers behind the project believe that the two wines will ultimately taste different after a year of aging. They predict that space’s higher levels of radiation, as well as the unique physics of life in the microgravity of the ISS, will affect the chemical reactions that occur.
When it comes to alcohol, people already pay a premium for drinks that come from a nifty background. For example, a startup from Ukraine is planning to sell ATOMIK Vodka that’s made with grain grown in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. With that in mind, it isn’t hard to see a market developing for space-aged wines.
Bottles of wine aged traditionally on Earth have been sold for more than $300,000. Space Cargo Unlimited certainly thinks that wine enthusiasts would be willing to pay premium prices for vino aged in microgravity—if they actually do taste better.
However, the startup claims that it also has other motivations for pursuing the space-aged wine experiment. According to a statement, their research is “following in the footsteps of Louis Pasteur.”
Of course, the revolutionary scientist developed the technique of pasteurization by experimenting with wine. While it’s unlikely that aging wine in space will have nearly the same level of impact, only time will tell.
For the sake of the astronauts aboard, perhaps the next supply mission will include a few bottles of wine to enjoy for pleasure and not science. Until then, we’ll anxiously await our first taste of space wine.