Well, the title is a little misleading. It should read something like, “Japanese Scientists Brew Beer from Barley that Spent Five Months on the International Space Station,” but that seemed a little too long. It’s not actually beer brewed in space, more beer made from ingredients grown on the ISS. Regardless, the idea is pretty cool. A Japanese company wants to produce 100 bottles of space beer, but commercializing the product may not be a reality quite yet. Even if you might not be able to buy space beer at your local pub, there might not be much different from the normal stuff anyway. But it is a step in the right direction toward the first bar on the Moon or Mars…
The Japanese, known for their traditional alcoholic tipple SakÃ©, are about to become known for their space beer brewing exploits too. Using third-generation barley grown on the ISS for 5 months in 2006, the brewing company Sapporo is hoping to roll out their first 100 bottles of “Space Beer” by this November. The company has been working with Okayama University biologist Manabu Sugimoto and the Russian space agency on producing edible products grown in orbit. This is all in the effort to aid the science behind growing sustainable produce in space for future long-term missions, greatly benefiting future manned settlement plans on the Moon, and eventually Mars.
“In the future, we may reach a point where humans will spend an extended period of time in space and must grow food to sustain ourselves […] In the long run, we hope our space research will be not just about producing food, but about enjoying food and relaxing [in space].” – Manabu Sugimoto.
On analysing the DNA of barley grown in space and comparing it with barley grown here on Earth, there appears to be no difference between the strains. These results will be presented in July at a conference in Canada with a focus on the cultivation of plants in a space environment. Barley is a hardy plant, allowing it to grow in challenging environments in a range of temperatures. It is also high in fibre and nutrients, essential for the health of astronauts and future space colonists. Making beer from barley grown in space may seem pretty inconsequential, but once this is achieved, more products familiar here on Earth may be grown and manufactured in space.
As for brewing beer in a zero-G environment, this may be many years off. In separate experiments held by NASA in the 1980’s on carbonated drinks, it was found that the “fizz” cannot rise in the liquid (as there is no gravity, pictured top). The foam you’d associate with the head on a pint of beer would be non-existent in zero-G as the bubbles become suspended within the liquid. This has the unappealing effect of producing “wet burps” when drunk by astronauts – the liquid does not become separated from the gas, expelling the gas by belching also expels some liquid. This is one of the main reasons why carbonated drinks are not on the ISS menu.
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For now, space beer, drunk in space, will probably be confined to consumption on planets, where gravity will help alleviate any messy burps…