There are issues attached to drinking in space. Liquid won’t come out of bottles, and then there’s burping…
The challenges of popping the top on a cold one in zero gravity have been tackled by a team that includes an Australian brewer and the head of an American space-focussed research company, and if you are in Sydney this week, you can hear all about the brew that just might be served on the first commercial flights heading off-planet.
How did the pair come to work together on this issue?
When American Dr Jason Held, CEO of space-focused research and development company Saber Astronautics, first moved to Sydney with his wife, they took a trip to WA and happened to meet Steve Mitchell, the father of 4 Pines Brewing Company founder Jaron Mitchell. Steve told Held his son was opening the brewpub in Manly, their new neighbourhood, and it fast became their local.
That’s how Held ended up approaching jaron Mitchell one day, telling him he wanted to put his beer into space on the first commercial flights to leave the earth, with the likes of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic planning to serve booze mid-flight and celebrities like Ashton Kutcher already signed up.
“I wanted a project that was mass market that would bring people who do space together with those who do not,” Held says. “A lot of people love space but don’t know how to relate to it. I thought this would interest them.”
Held will lead a Trailblazer Talk this week at Sydney’s Australian Museum on the world’s first zero g pint, Vostok Space Beer, alongside 4 Pines master brewer Chris Wilcock. Launching beer into space is a dream come true for Held and Mitchell, with the former bringing the applied science and the latter the beer knowledge. Vostok is a full-flavoured and low carbonation tweak on 4 Pines Dry Irish Stout, with both factors important in zero gravity.
“In space, your blood flows evenly throughout your body, which makes you look younger, but also reduces your sense of taste over time, with astronauts often taking Tabasco sauce up to add flavour to their food,” Held says. “4 Pines stout is very strong in hops and the flavour comes out very sharp in zero g.”
Carbonation is also a problem because, as Mitchell notes, when you burp in space, the liquid comes up in a bubble. “The last thing we want at a spacebar in a space plane or hotel is everyone wet burping everywhere, so we’ve actually had to change some properties in the beer.”
Rigorous testing in a drop tower in Queensland and zero gravity flight testing conditions on G-FORCE One, a flight our of Cape Canaveral run by the Zero-G corporation, measured alcohol absorption in space, as well as how well that stout flavour holds up and stays down. They’re also in the process of designing a bottle you can easily drink from. “In space, surface tension is always more than gravity, so it’s always pushing the liquid back into a fixed volume vessel,” Mitchell says. “You have to shake it to get the liquid out of it”
Though you can get the baseline stout on earth, Vostok will not be available to purchase on the ground and wouldn’t taste right here anyway. It’s all about enjoying in space. While NASA has been historically unwilling to let working astronauts have a knock-off beer, with religiously conservative cultural sensitivities in their Texan base and a hangover form prohibition era sensibilities, Buzz Aldrin famously had a tipple on the moon, in the form of communion. “It’s OK for religious purposes,” Held laughs.
Mitchell didn’t take much convincing to get on board this mission. “The motive to change the world and do something for the first time in human history was big enough for us,” he says. “Whether there’s money attached to it or not I don’t care. If it never turns over a dollar, if we’re the first beer sold in space, no one can ever take that away.”
He points out that beer has been at the forefront of man’s progress, with India Pale Ale created for British troops in India who were fed up with beer from home arriving stale, and the French labour movement driven by who had the best farm-door saison. “Throughout the history of humanity, every time we have gone somewhere new, the order of things we think about is water, food, shelter, clothing, and then the very next thing that comes into the equation is 'where’s the beer?'.”
Held’s glad to help Vostok’s lift off and is looking forward to sharing their secrets at the Australian museum talk. “It’s the nuclear bomb of geek – all you need is dinosaurs in space drinking beer for the trifecta. It’s a fun project, it’s got some serious science but we don’t take ourselves very seriously while we do it.”
"Trailblazer Talks: The world's first space beer" will be held at the Australian Museum from 6pm this Thursday, June 16. Details and bookings here.