Will future spacefliers be able to drink a bit of celebratory bubbly in zero gravity? Leave it to a French winemaker to find out, using some out-of-the-box engineering.
Past studies have shown that carbonated beverages, ranging from soda pop to beer and wine, can turn into a sticky, gassy mess in microgravity. In a Quora Q&A, NASA engineer Robert Frost described the problems that were encountered when astronauts tried to quaff carbonated cola drinks aboard the space shuttle in the 1980s and 1990s:
“Soda in space is a bit problematic. In microgravity, the light gas bubbles won’t rush to the top of the liquid and escape. They will stay within the liquid. This means the astronaut will consume significantly more gas drinking a soda in space than one would drinking a soda on the ground. Drinking a carbonated beverage could be like drinking a foamy slurp.”
NASA did figure out how to design a relatively mess-free Coke dispenser, which pumped fluid into a collapsible bag under conditions that were precisely controlled for pressure and temperature.
More recently, Australia’s 4 Pines Brewing Company and Saber Astronautics set up an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to support the development of a beer brewed specifically for guzzling in zero-G, plus a custom-designed beer bottle and drinking vessel.
France’s Maison Mumm Champagne is taking a similarly ambitious route. It’s been working with Octave de Gaulle and his Spade space design agency to build a zero-G wine-drinking system from the ground up.
“For the last 40 years, space travel has been shaped by engineers rather than designers. Instead of seeing zero gravity as a problem to be solved, we look at it as a design possibility,” de Gaulle explained today in a news release. “The big design challenge for Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar was actually getting the liquid out of the bottle.”
The bottle is fitted with some internal plumbing as well as a ring-shaped frame around the lip. The design channels the pressurized fluid to create white, foamy balls of wine. As shown in a YouTube video, those globs can be flipped off the mouth of the bottle — then caught in the bowl of a shallow glass, thanks to surface tension.
Weightlessness brings a whole new dimension to the wine — as Didier Mariotti, Mumm’s cellar master, discovered when the team conducted taste tests during a parabolic airplane flight on Air Zero G.
“It’s a very surprising feeling,” Mariotti said. “Because of zero gravity, the liquid instantly coats the entire inside of the mouth, magnifying the taste sensations. There’s less fizziness and more roundness and generosity, enabling the wine to express itself fully.”
Mumm’s plan is to supply the Champagne package as an option for Air Zero G’s flights starting in September, and discuss future opportunities with commercial spaceship operators such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.
Neither of those companies has talked about breaking out the champagne during spaceflight — but it’s hard to imagine Virgin Galactic’s flamboyant billionaire founder, Richard Branson, not wanting to.