The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

Sending Beer on a Zero Gravity Rainbow

Image via NASA Goddard / Flickr / Creative Commons

When and if commercial space flights become available, there’s going to be a beverage service. That’s the idea behind Astronauts4Hire‘s testing of a beer that could be consumed in zero gravity.

In its beer studies, the Florida-based non-profit is sending a specially brewed beer from Australia’s 4 Pines Brewing Co. aboard a Zero Gravity Corp. airplane. During Astronauts4Hire’s parabolic flight, the company will test everything from how the beer tastes to blood-alcohol content.

The end result of the tests should be a beer that can be served on commercial space flights like those being explored by Virgin Galactic or Space-X. Astronauts4Hire is hoping to train the first generation of private astronauts to work on those flights.

But in the here and now, I really do feel for the poor sod who has to suck down a beer on a parabolic flight. In order to achieve weightlessness, these zero-gravity planes fly in sharp angles up and then down, allowing for about thirty seconds of zero gravity at a time.

The problem, historically, with drinking beer in space hasn’t necessarily been one of sobriety but that carbonated beverages just make astronauts burp too much.

As New Scientist explains, “Beer is poorly suited to space consumption because of the gas it includes. Without gravity to draw liquids to the bottoms of their stomachs, leaving gases at the top, astronauts tend to produce wet burps.”

Another problem – which has been discovered in studies with soda – is that temperature fluctuations and changes in pressure can cause the carbonated bubbles to be released from the space-approved dispenser prematurely. Meaning – a big bunch of bubbles with froth and foam and collect in a cloud.

So in terms of beer, we’re not talking about a frothy head of beer pouring over the sides of your pint glass, but a giant cloud of foam squirting out of a beverage dispenser.

For you aspiring space brewers, a NASA study done in conjunction with the University of Colorado found that yeast ferments at a higher efficiency in micro-gravity environments, which makes the beer stronger.

Anyway, NASA has always maintained a strict policy of abstinence on its space flights and missions. Except for Buzz Aldrin taking communion after his moon walk, alcohol is verboten.

Drinking before a flight is a different story – yeah, NASA will fire ’em up to Soyuz even if they are wasted. Hell, drinking and space goes back to the birth of the U.S. space program. (You can get a taste of the drinking and driving and flying and exclamation marks in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.) Even so, the drinking and carousing was kept on Earth.

It’s a different scene in Russia. In Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars, she relates this anecdote:

“While I was in Russia, a cosmonaut, who requested anonymity, showed me one of his slides from space: two crew members with straws, floating on either side of a 5-liter tank of cognac like teenagers sharing a malt.”

But for those who can afford to be passengers on a space flight, the story is going to be a different one.

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Sampler Pack: Get the Astronauts Drunk

• The first beer to be certified OK for consumption in zero gravity is now being tested in weightlessness [MSNBC].

• New York Cork Report offers up this thorough and excellent profile of the Kelso Brewery in Carroll Gardens [New York Cork Report].

• The folks at the Brooklyn Brew Shop are setting pen to paper. Their book on homebrewing will be published by Random House in 2012 [Brooklyn Flea].

• In this experiment by Cooking Issues, both the legal and illegal methods of distilling alcohol are put to the test [Cooking Issues].

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