“Save The Earth. It's The Only Planet With Beer”, the t-shirts proclaim. Much as we don't want to discourage conservation efforts, this may soon not be quite as true as it once was, following efforts to produce a beer suited for drinking in space and a bottle to consume it from.
To drink any sort of liquid in microgravity you need to use straws or squeezable bottles. The absence of gravity means liquid won't flow into your mouth just by raising a glass and pouring. However, the problems are greater for carbonated drinks. Dr Jason Held, CEO of Saber Astronautics told IFLScience that instead of bubbles of gas rising to the top of the drink, they become larger until you end up with a bubble surrounded by a shell of liquid. The problems don't end when the drink is consumed. “You want to burp, but the gas and liquid come up together,” Held says, although he hastens to add it is not dangerous. Finally, there is the question of whether alcohol can be drunk safely in microgravity.
As companies worldwide rush to be ready for the dawn of space tourism, Saber Astronautics and 4 Pines Brewing Company are trying to make sure future voyagers beyond the Earth's atmosphere can enjoy their favorite drink as they watch the Earth float by their window. No doubt there will be an even more lucrative market selling to those who can't afford to go into space, but will pay what they can to imitate the experience with the appropriate drink and dispenser while on the ground.
Stage one of this process was to find a beer low enough in carbonation to avoid some of the problems described, but containing enough gas you can “feel it on your tongue” and maintaining a desirable taste. While Held didn't want to give away any secrets on just how much carbon dioxide has been cut out, he told IFLScience the product produced by Sydney brewers 4 Pines is similar to some English-style lagers.
Although carbonated soft drinks have been consumed in space using suction, Held pointed out, “Who wants to drink beer with a straw?” Consequently, Saber has designed a bottle, modeled on fuel-tanks, that uses surface tension to wick the beer to the mouth of the bottle so the experience of drinking most closely resembles swigging from a bottle on Earth. Some might say the whole point of going into space is to experience different things, but Held said even NASA's guidelines for space products suggest making the experience as similar to use on Earth as possible.
Finally, there is the question of whether the body processes alcohol differently without gravity. Might it “go to one's head” more quickly? Surprisingly, this isn't a question that has been answered. Held told IFLScience NASA's rules prohibit alcohol on spaceflights, and while he said “the Russians are reportedly more relaxed,” no studies have been done on how the body responds to alcohol in space.
To address this Saber Astronautics had three people, Held included, take controlled amounts of alcohol before flying on Zero Gravity Corporation flights, which provide 30 seconds of weightlessness. Participants then had various bodily responses measured. According to Held, the data so far suggests microgravity does affect alcohol processing. However, going in quick succession from more than 1G gravity to zero and back again is a very different situation from sustained weightlessness. Moreover, Held acknowledged three participants is an inadequate sample, and the team are looking for more subjects to take part.
Those who find the idea enticing can enter a competition Saber and 4 Pines are running to win a Zero Gravity Corporation flight where they will be an additional subject for the study of the intersection of microgravity and alcohol. Although judgment will be made on the best-written submission, to be in consideration you need to prepay for one of the bottles Sabre are making. Moreover, even without alcohol consumption, a flight on the Zero Gravity's flights isn't always a delightful experience. They don't call it the "vomit comet for nothing", and beer isn't usually considered a form of extreme nausea control.