Houston, We Finally Have a Space Wine Mission!

We wanted to believe, and now a case of wine has arrived at the International Space Station for the first-ever study of wine in orbit. Here's how it went down (er, up)

Houston, We Finally Have a Space Wine Mission!
Where no wine has gone (to be studied) before! (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Nov 7, 2019

It's one giant leap for spacewine: After decades of firing the occasional bottle or vial of vino into orbit for the purposes of ceremony or "health reasons" (looking at you, cosmonauts), wine is finally getting a trip to the International Space Station for scientific study. This week, a case of Bordeaux wine docked at the ISS as part of a biological research project called WISE: Vitis Vinum in Spatium Experimentia. "It is the first wine experiment aboard the space station," NASA public affairs officer Stephanie Schierholz told Unfiltered via email.

Space Cargo Unlimited wine mission
In space, no one can hear you discreetly pop a cork. SCU co-founder Emmanuel Etcheparre (left) with the wines in their canisters (Courtesy of Space Cargo Unlimited)

The study aims to examine the aging process in wine—in space—and determine how microgravity affects the taste and structural composition of foods that undergo and benefit from aging. “Wine as a complex multi-component system is a great model for the understanding of these processes,” Dr. Michael Lebert, the mission’s scientific manager and a cell biologist at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, told Unfiltered. “The exposure of life to the absence of gravity allows us to provoke an organism in a unique way, which cannot be simulated on Earth.” The 12 bottles of wine will be stored at the ISS for 12 months, aging in microgravity. At the Institute of Vine and Wine Science at the University of Bordeaux, 254 miles below, 12 identical bottles are being aged, and in a year, research director Dr. Philippe Darriet will analyze and compare the two sets.

Space Cargo Unlimited wine mission
Packing for the trip (Courtesy of Space Cargo Unlimited)

The project is a collaboration between French start-up Space Cargo Unlimited (SCU), payload specialist Nanoracks and space specialist NASA. They chose to send wine to space not because it was, you know, easy—and planning and prepping the mission was indeed hard.

SCU founder Nicolas Gaume chose Nanoracks to prepare the fragile shipment, breakage being NASA's main concern in the approval process. “The bottles are stored in individual custom-designed aluminum canisters with form-fitting foam inserts and redundant O-ring seals,” Nanoracks marketing director Abby Dickes explained to Unfiltered via email. “The bottles will remain inside the canisters for the duration of the experiment and will only be removed once returned back to Earth for post-mission analysis.” As NASA was unable to fly a sommelier to the space station, all the bottles and containers were also "legally checked by a sworn bailiff wine expert from Bordeaux," said Gaume. All of which is to say it's gonna be pretty suspicious if the analysis shows that, incredibly, the effects of space made the bottles empty.

Space Cargo Unlimited wine mission
Pre-flight wine fitness assessment (Courtesy of Space Cargo Unlimited)

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Unfiltered Aging Wine Extra, Extra Bordeaux

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