Astronomers scanning our galaxy with powerful radio waves have discovered vast clouds of interstellar alcohol. Ethanol, methanol and vinyl ethanol have been found in the Milky Way in formations such as Sagittarius B2N and W3(OH) measuring billions of kilometres across. Frustratingly it’s going to be tough for us humans to get close to these vast clouds of booze as the nearest is 26,000 light years away.
To date there has been relatively little consumption of alcohol in space despite allegations in 2007 that astronauts were permitted to fly drunk. In 1969, Buzz Aldrin took Holy Communion on the moon from a small chalice; he later wrote that because of the low gravity, the wine swirled like syrup.
In the past NASA spent about half a million dollars studying which wines would be best to go with their astronauts space food. They commissioned Californian oenologists to recommend the ultimate orbital wine and food pairing – their suggestion; a medium sherry. The high alcohol content means that that it stands up to the violence of blast off and travels well.
The recommendation mirrors sherry’s earlier history as a wine popularised by adventurer Francis Drake and appreciated by the British for centuries due to its robustness in travel. Sherry was even trialed in parabolic flight where weightless conditions are simulated by an aircraft’s elliptic flight relive to the centre of the earth. The fortified wine passed the test flight (on a plane unofficially termed the ‘vomit comet’) but the NASA booze in space programme was put on hold due to worries that US temperance groups would be incited to press for major budget cuts.
In the space community there are rumors that nefarious methods have been used to smuggle illicit alcohol to US astronauts. On any mission the astronauts are typically working for several research groups back on earth carrying out experiments. The research groups are said to occasionally bribe the astronauts to give their particular experiments more attention by smuggling forbidden booze amongst the mission critical equipment!
Russian cosmonauts have had more luck with alcohol in space and have been permitted small amounts of gelled vodka in toothpaste tubes after complaining about running a dry ship. Yuri Malenchenko was permitted to toast the new year of 2007/2008 onboard the International Space Station (ISS) during a rather wonderful live broadcast on Ukranian television. He shots the spirit with finesse in zero-g. You can see him jiggle out large measure that floats in the cabin as he lets it linger in front of his face in mid air. Then Yuri expertly masters the weightless shot in a single gulp.
A new epoch of space travel is beginning. As Richard Branson launches Virgin Galactic, journeys into space are no longer scientific research missions but pleasure cruises. Just as rations of the Age of Sail became the groaning sideboards of the cruise ship era, space tourists will demand fine food and booze.
Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse has already started producing space-certified food for the ISS (230 miles above the Earth’s crust) that includes swordfish steak and roast quails. Thomas Reiterm, the ESA astronaut, describes Ducasse’s meals as a real boost for the crew but admitted “it would taste much better if we had some wine with it as well!"
No one has yet come up with the world’s first accredited space cocktail but future space tourists will surely want to celebrate. Ordran Achard, the business-development-manager of Pommery Champagne, claims that alcohol in space is a "technology worth perusing" though problems associated with champagne in space include the explosive pressure inside a glass bottle packed full of 250 million bubbles of carbon dioxide. The low gravity also means that gases are not drawn to the bottom of the stomach and celebrating space tourists would be likely to produce wet burps. "That's one of the reasons why we don't have carbonated beverages on the space menu,” says William Jeffs, a spokesperson for Nasa.
So there’s a strong case for an intergalactic cocktail for space tourists to toast their momentous journey. The answer is jelly. The gel matrix can lock in the fizz of carbonation allowing it to sparkle on your tongue with out the embarrassment of wet burps. At Bompas & Parr we are helping Professor Peter Barham a physicist at Bristol University and his research group, evolve the optimum gel for a celebration in space. Here’s a champagne based recipe you can try at home.
Champagne, Elderflower and Violet Space Jelly
For 500ml or enough for 4
5 leaves of gelatine
100ml Tanqueray Gin
75ml Elderflower Cordial
75ml Violet Liqueur
Juice of half a lemon
Food dye to your preferred choice
Before blasting off mix all the liquid in a large mixing jug. Cut the leaf gelatine into a heatproof bowl with a pair of scissors. Add enough mixture cover (about 100ml). Leave the gelatine to soften for 5 minutes.
Bring a pan of water to the boil and place the bowl of softened gelatine on top of the pan of boiling water. Once the gelatine has totally melted, stir in the sugar until it has dissolved and add another 100ml of the mixture.
Combine the melted gelatine mix with the rest of the liquid by pouring it through a sieve (strainer) – to remove any unmelted lumps – and into a measuring jug (measuring cup).
Add food colouring to desired hue is achieved and pour mixture into your mould. Set in fridge for a minimum of two hours. Wrap the jelly for space travel.
Release the jelly from the mould by blasting it hot air from a hair dryer (the traditional method of submerging in hot water could be disasterous in zero gravity). Marvel at the hypnotic wobble in a weightless environment.
And here’s a recipe with heritage – an updated version of the Moonshot 1969 cocktail produced to commemorate the Apollo 11 flight. The mighty Nicola Twilley rediscovered it recently and detailed it on her website. To date it has only been enjoyed on earth but this updated version is designed for zero gravity boozing.
3 parts Dry White Wine
3 parts Orange juice
2 parts Cognac
1 empty steel paint tube
Mix the wine, juice and cognac. Then incrementally add the methyl cellulose powder until you get a satisfactory consistency. Fill your paint tubes. Now you have a space ready delivery system and a potent drink to celebrate escaping the earth’s gravitational field with. Strap yourself in and feel the Gs.
Adapted from Cocktails with Bompas & Parr published by Anova.