Microgravity Microbrew

Beer is among humanity's earliest of inventions.  Predating writing, the fermented beverage traces its roots back to the dawn of agriculture more than 10,000 years ago.  Throughout human history, no matter where people go they bring beer with them.  Thus, it is only a matter of time until beer becomes a fixture of life in space.  When that day comes, we know we'll be in space to stay.

No research has been done on the effects of alcohol on people in a microgravity environment.  For example, no one knows how alcohol absorption and metabolism differ in space compared with Earth.  Well, that's about to change.  I am proud to announce that the 4-Pines Brewing Company and Saber Astronautics Australia (through a joint venture called Vostok Pty Ltd) have hired Astronauts4Hire (A4H) to test the first beer meant for consumption in space.  It is intended to meet anticipated demand from the upcoming space tourism market.
Vostok Space Beer. Image Credit: Alex R. Green
Rather than studying the physics and chemistry of carbonation or fermentation, the research will focus specifically on the human experience of consuming the beverage in microgravity.  The A4H flight researcher will sample the beer during weightless parabolas on a series of Zero G Corp flights and record body temperature, heart rate, blood alcohol content, as well as qualitative data on the beverage's taste and drinkability.  As I said in our press release, "Astronauts4Hire is living up to its name. This opportunity is an important milestone for us and illustrates how researchers can hire our members to conduct experiments under conditions of microgravity."  We've already gotten some attention with articles showing up at SPACE.com (and MSNBC), Discovery News, Time, Popular Science, and Discover Magazine. I was interviewed for the BBC too (listen to mp3).

According to the joint Saber/4-Pines press release, the beer comes from "a recipe designed for easy drinking in microgravity while still being tasty here on Earth."  It's a dark stout with low carbonation meant to mitigate the effects of dulled tastebuds and behavior of gases in the human body in space. The first lucky tasters have already reported that the beverage, which is based on a recipe that won an international award for best stout, is "bloody good" and a "very fine beer."  The experiment is funded in part by conventional sales on Earth.  The box for the terrestrial 6-pack version of the Vostok Space Beer reads:

From the dawn of civilization, people have brewed beer and wherever people went, beer followed.  In the Middle Ages, beer helped monks survive long periods of fasting.  Sailors drank beer (with a splash of lime) to stave off scurvy.  During the age of exploration, distances travelled necessitated brewers to get creative, making beer recipes to last the voyages that would bring this great beverage to the world!

To continue this great tradition we have created a beer for another momentous voyage.  A beer specifically designed for the next frontier of space exploration.  Space engineers from Saber Astronautics Australia have teamed with 4 Pines in our own space race; to take this 4 Pines stout which tastes fantastic on Earth and adapt it for space to produce the world's first space beer.

Enjoy! (no matter where on Earth or in space you are)

Beer in space is not a new idea. While astronauts have been known to take an occasional nip, NASA policy forbids consumption of any alcoholic or carbonated beverage. But with routine commercial spaceflight just around the corner, maybe the tide is changing.

Last year, Japanese brewer Sapporo announced that they had brewed a special "Space Barley Beer" descended from barley grown for five months aboard the ISS's Zvezda Service Module.  The first 250 applicants from Japan who applied through a highly competitive lottery enjoyed the privilege of purchasing six-packs of the space beer at 10,000 yen ($110) each.  The novelty of drinking beer from ingredients grown in space is obviously a lucrative, although very limited, market.

And what about brewing beer in space?  Well, it may be possible one day.  In fact, 7 of 12 beer ingredients have been found floating naturally in space.  The process of fermentation in microgravity was studied during two Space Shuttle flights in 1994 (STS-60 and STS-62).  Graduate student Kirsten Sterrett supported in part by the Coors Brewing Company and BioServe Space Technologies researched this phenomenon for her master's thesis.  Science@NASA featured her work in their 2001 "Suds in Space" feature, and ABC Australia in interviewed Kirsten here. The NASA story is available in audio format below:

The upcoming flight tests of the 4-Pines beer, illustrate just one of many possible avenues of research or product development that Astronauts4Hire members can carry out. We don't have to wait until suborbital space flights are a reality, as there are plenty of opportunities for research on parabolic Zero G flights today. If you have questions about hiring us for another job, please let us know.


Update 1 October 2010:

You can hear my interview discussing space beer and A4H with the BBC's The World Today here:


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