If one of the multiple possible circumstances for the world ending comes to pass – we fail to combat climate change, an asteroid hits Earth, the Trumpocalypse – and we all have to decamp to the Moon or Mars, we’re all going to need a big drink. But will this be possible in space?
Luckily for us, scientists have their priorities straight and have designed an experiment to see if it’s possible to brew beer on the Moon. Yep, go science!
The group of students from the University of California, San Diego, who designed the experiment are finalists in the Lab2Moon competition to send a project onboard the spacecraft of Indian startup TeamIndus, themselves one of the four finalists of Google’s Lunar XPRIZE challenge to send a spacecraft to the Moon.
The experiment is designed to explore how yeast behaves in lunar conditions, with a view to seeing whether it’s possible to develop pharmaceuticals and yeast-containing foods, like bread, in space. To test this, they are going to brew beer.
"The idea started out with a few laughs amongst a group of friends," said Neeki Ashari, a bioengineering student at UC San Diego and the team's operations lead, in a statement. "We all appreciate the craft of beer, and some of us own our own home-brewing kits. When we heard that there was an opportunity to design an experiment that would go up on India's moonlander, we thought we could co1mbine our hobby with the competition by focusing on the viability of yeast in outer space."
The team designed a unique system to carry out this experiment. First, the “wort” – malt and water mixed together – will be mixed on Earth and placed in a special fermentation vessel. Then, the vessel will combine the fermentation (turning the sugar to alcohol) and carbonation (adding the bubbles to beer) stages, which are usually done separately, to avoid releasing any carbon dioxide on the spacecraft.
The vessel, amazingly, is only the size of a soda can. "Our canister is designed based on actual fermenters," explained Srivaths Kaylan, the team’s mechanical lead. "It contains three compartments – the top will be filled with the unfermented beer, and the second will contain the yeast. When the rover lands on the moon with our experiment, a valve will open between the two compartments, allowing the two to mix. When the yeast has done its job, a second valve opens and the yeast will sink to the bottom and separate from the now fermented beer."
The team are one of 25 teams selected from over 3,000 by TeamIndus to compete for the chance to send their experiment aboard its spacecraft, which is due for launch in December. If they are chosen, they will be the first people to brew beer in space.
It won’t be the first time alcohol has been present on the Moon, however. Buzz Aldrin has that accolade after he snuck communion wine and bread onto Apollo 11 back in 1969, a fact he only revealed months later, once he was safely back on Earth.
At just the size of a soda can, this gives new meaning to the term microbrewery. Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications