Do space and alcohol mix? We already know that beer has a cozy relationship with space culture, but now it’s time to raise an orbital dram. In an alcoholic first, small samples of whisky will return to Earth this month after a three-year stay on the International Space Station.
As one of the experiments installed in the station’s NanoRacks system, the samples were sent into space by the scotch whisky company Ardbeg to see how the spirit matured in microgravity when compared with samples that matured on Earth.
According to the company website, “The vials contained a class of compounds known as ‘terpenes.’ Ardbeg was invited by U.S.-based space research company NanoRacks LLC to take part in testing these micro organic compounds in a maturation experiment (the interaction of these compounds with charred oak) between normal gravity on Earth and micro-gravity i.e. space.”
This experiment is one of many industry-driven interests to see how the microgravity environment impacts chemical processes, but this is the first to focus on the maturation process in whisky.
Ardbeg’s vials will return to Earth on Sept. 11 on board a Russian Soyuz space capsule that is ferrying NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Roscosmos cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev. The Soyuz TMA-12M will parachute onto the Kazakhstan Steppes and the whisky samples will be rushed to Houston so tests can be carried out.
After arriving in the Houston lab, “it will be the team’s task to proceed to unlock the mysteries of maturation, through the study of the interaction between Ardbeg-crafted molecules and charred oak, both in micro-gravity (in orbit) and normal gravity (in Ardbeg’s Warehouse 3),” says the company's website.
Should there be a chemical difference between the space and terrestrial samples, it will be interesting to see how it may change the way whisky is matured in the future. If there’s no change, the experiment is at least a great means of publicizing our unique orbital laboratory, where hundreds of groundbreaking experiments are routinely carried out.