On Monday, a Japanese spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station equipped with supplies. The obvious supplies were included in this delivery, such as food and water. However it also included invaluable experiments and extremely strange shipment of liquor.
Sadly, the liquor was not delivered for consumption, particularly for NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. These two crew members are in the first months of their year-long, alcohol-free experiment into long-duration spaceflight.
The various selections of alcoholic beverages are part of an experiment to see how different types of alcohol mellow in a microgravity environment.
“With the exception of some items like beer, alcoholic beverages are widely known to develop a mellow flavour when aged for a long time,” wrote an experiment report on July 30. “Although researchers have taken a variety of scientific approaches to elucidating the underlying mechanism, we still do not have a full picture of how this occurs.”
The mellowing process of various liquors such as whiskey are well known processes on Earth, but the actual chemical reactions that drive the process of mellowing are poorly understood.
In the field of medical science, microgravity tests conducted on drugs that are used to combat conditions such as diabetes, have shown the potential to also combat certain types of cancer. Also, the growth of protein crystals in space could lead to novel pharmaceuticals, on Earth, the growth of these crystals are limited by gravity, whereas in space, these crystals can grow much larger.
These various discoveries are profound for agricultural and medical practices on Earth as well as in space. This also goes for industrial methods, energy production, animal science and a myriad of other as-yet to be appreciated applications.
Although the experiments regarding the mellowing of whiskey may seem rather playful in the eyes of some, these potentially life-saving applications, chemical reactions behind mellowing are a huge unknown and new discoveries as to gravity’s contribution to this process could lead to invaluable spin-off technologies that will assist us in various applications on Earth.