Alcohol in Space

Alcohol in Space

20/03/2019Written by Hannah Baker

Can astronauts drink?

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mascot Telescope Right

Astronauts risk their lives in space for the benefit of humanity. Surely that deserves a drink? However, after a long day performing complex experiments on the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts can’t relax with a glass of wine. Consumption of alcohol is prohibited on the ISS. In fact, even products that contain alcohol, such as mouthwash or aftershave, are restricted due to the affect it would have on the water recovery system. But clearly, if that was the whole story this would be a very short blog…

Wine on the Moon

Wine on the Moon
Buzz Aldrin in the Lunar Module - Credit: NASA

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon in 1969, before Armstrong took his famous first steps, Aldrin sipped the first liquid ever consumed on the lunar surface – wine. This was part of a communion ceremony Aldrin performed as a way of giving thanks for a successful mission. He later described the event:

“I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.”

NASA chose not to broadcast the event due to its religious nature, rather than to conceal the fact that Aldrin had brought wine with him. But the principle of taking alcohol to space roused strong objections on later missions. Afterall, astronauts need all their wits about them when operating billion-dollar spacecraft.

Sherry on Skylab

Sherry on Skylab
Astronauts enjoying a meal on board Skylab -Credit: NASA

When attention turned away from the Moon and towards living in habitable space stations for long periods of time, NASA felt astronauts deserved a few more home comforts. With a much-improved menu developed for the Skylab space station came the option of adding alcoholic beverages to help boost crew morale. Sherry was the tipple of choice because its heavy alcohol and sugar content help to preserve it longer. The astronauts would be allowed four ounces every four days.

When word got out that NASA were planning to provide alcohol to astronauts, they were inundated with angry letters from disapproving members of the public. As it turns out, the sherry never made it into space anyway. During testing on NASA’s infamous “Vomit Comet” the odours released by the sherry, mixed with the generally unpleasant aroma of the plane, caused the crew to reach for the sick bags. After that, the crew were not particularly enthusiastic about trying it out in space.

Cognac on Mir

Cognac on Mir
Russian Rowan Berry Cognac

The Russians, on the other hand, seem to have a more relaxed attitude to alcohol. They issued cosmonauts on the Mir space station small amounts of cognac and vodka. We have an example of Russian space cognac in our collection here at the National Space Centre. Russian doctors encouraged drinking small amounts to relax and stimulate the immune system. Despite having alcohol in their rations, some cosmonauts reportedly stashed extra.

Cosmonaut Igor Volk described smuggling a bottle of cognac along with two jars of pickled cucumbers on his Soyuz flight:

“It’s impossible to take aboard more weight than the alignment of the seat can handle. My partner Volodya Djanibekov and I thought of everything. A week before the launch we didn’t eat anything except bread and tea, and we lost almost two kilograms (4.4 pounds). We packed everything in little cellophane bags and when we were being dressed, we placed the bags in the spacesuits. That’s how I took off with pickles on my stomach.”

Beer on Mars

Beer on Mars
Hubble's Sharpest View Of Mars - Credit: NASA

In 2017, Budweiser announced its ambition to be the first beer on Mars. The company has already taken steps to accomplish this goal by sending experiments to the ISS to investigate how microgravity affects barley seedlings. This research could help Budweiser develop new malt barley varieties that have a greater tolerance to harsh environments. If humans reach Mars by the 2030s as currently predicted, some of us might soon be living there, and beer production could follow shortly after!

Budweiser are not the only ones with their sights on Mars. Researchers from Georgia’s IX Millennium Project are looking into which grape varieties have the potential to grow in Martian soil and withstand higher radiation levels. Georgia has one of the longest traditions of wine production in the world – over 8,000 years. It aims to be the first to bring the tradition to Mars.

As commercial spaceflight becomes a reality and we look to inhabit other worlds, we can imagine future space travellers might be allowed a little more in the drinks cabinet. So, let’s raise a glass to all the teetotal astronauts of today who are paving the way. Cheers!

About the author: Hannah Baker is the Assistant Curator at the National Space Centre.