If you were to travel to space, what’s something you’d miss? If having a beer sprung to mind – you’re in luck. No, seriously.
I spoke to the people making having a cold one while in zero gravity a reality.
But wait – what? How?
If you’ve watched any relatively realistic space movie in the last 50 years you’ll know how space travellers drink liquids – in one of those squeezy packs, through a straw. Vostok don’t want you to drink beer in space like that. Gross. The company is now in the final stages of testing the prototype of a beer bottle that will enable you to drink the beer just as you do on Earth.
What exactly is Vostok, you ask? It is a joint venture between the Sydney-based 4 Pines Brewing Company, and space engineering company Saber Astronautics. It was formed seven years ago with the sole purpose of creating the world’s first beer to be drunk in space – from the beer recipe to the patented bottle technology. The next step in its mission to get beer on the moon is to send Earthlings 32,000 feet above our beautiful planet on a Zero Gravity Corporation (ZERO-G) research flight.
I spoke to Saber Astronautics CEO Jason Held about the project, which has already hit major milestones in research and development.
“This includes testing to ensure alcohol is safe for people to drink in space (it is); whether you can actually create a beer that can be drunk in space (you can and they have); determining if this beer will taste any good (you betcha), as well as developing the first beer in aviation history to be formally tested on a commercial microgravity flight,” Vostok told me.
The bottle will be a world-first and once perfected, will then be manufactured and available for space-travelling civilians to drink from. With hundreds of people signed up for commercial space flights already, a beer is bound to top that experience off, they reckon.
Jason Held, CEO of Saber Astronautics, spoke to me about what on Earth (or space) led to this idea in the first place.
“There are more people booked for commercial spaceflights than there are people flown to space in the history of spaceflight,” held explains, “Just like the history of commercial aviation, some of them will want the things ‘up there’ that are familiar to them ‘down here’.”
“Beer is a luxury of leisure so to have a pint in space really is placing a flag in the ground for our species. It says ‘we’re here, and we’re here to stay’.”
Have people in space expressed a wish to have a cold one while they are up there? I needed to know.
“Absolutely. This is the number-one entertainment drink in human history. There is really good research history here for space too,” Held assures me.
People drink in space today even if they don’t advertise it, Held says.
“Anywhere people go, beer soon follows.”
None of the current recipes are comfortable to drink in space, Held says. He refers to an old Russian experiment where cosmonauts were given freeze dried beer cubes – it turned out not to be very popular, so they now bring vodka and brandy instead.
Beer is trickier to get right, you see.
“Beer in liquid form was difficult because of the bubbles – Coca Cola had the same problem. So that was the first challenge that Vostok solved in 2010 – getting the recipe just right, where we can reduce the bubbles just enough to be comfortable to drink and still taste the bubbles on the tongue,” Held says.
But what happens if you drink too much? Is being intoxicated (or hungover) in space worse than on Earth?
“Alcohol is an entertainment drink, so yes it can be abused in space just like it can on Earth,” held confirms. “So it’s important that we learn if people’s limits change in space so they can have a bit of fun love from Earth while still being safe.”
“People are going to bring alcohol to space anyway, so it’s better to know sooner rather than later.”
But…is it legal to drink and fly a spacecraft?
“Of course not! This is intended for off-duty,” held explains, much to my relief.
“And yes, people in space will have off duty time just like they do here on Earth. Tourists and passengers are not flying the spacecraft anyway. Note NASA has a ‘no alcohol’ policy. But Cosmonauts and Europeans do not.”
Okay, so back to the new technology – being able to drink from a beer bottle in space.
“There is a special device that uses surface tension to wick the beer from the bottom of the bottle to the mouthpiece,” Held explains. “The drinker then drinks pretty-close-to-normal just like they would on Earth.”
“I would use the space bottle any time I want to drink something without using a squeezie bag or a straw,” Held says. “Beer has a specific shape and feel that people recognize and no beer drinker would want to use a straw. So a space beer bottle is really a luxury, something which we hope will make the hard working astronaut feel more at home.”
Vostok has been through several rounds of industrial design and microgravity test sprints already with early prototypes – the insert can be used on flights today if need be. The bottle as a whole is downselected to two prototypes, and Vostok have one final test flight with the Zero-G Corporation to try out a few final features before going to production.
Vostok is looking at one year, at the most two, before this technology is perfected.
And that one final test flight? They are giving away a spot to a regular chump just like you and I. You’ll get flown to Cape Canaveral in Florida, get accommodation for three nights in Florida and a seat on a ZERO-G Weightless Lab parabolic flight – during which you will be part of the Vostok research and development team for space beer.
Put that one on your CV.
There’s a catch, though – you need to make a pledge to purchase a space beer bottle for $90 USD on Vostok’s Indiegogo when it launches this month, then you’ll be able top enter the competition. Keep an eye on it here.
Vostok will use the money raised from the Indiegogo campaign to assist in the continued research and development of the bottle prototype, as well as manufacturing the final product. Their aim is to have a space beer product available for commercial space flights in 2019.