The Link Between Beer and the Colonization of Space

A Japanese brewery has successfully produced 100 litres of Space Beer. Hurrah!

The beer won’t actually be consumed in space (which seems a shame somehow), but it was made totally from barley grown on the International Space Station. For a lucky few, 60 people will get to sample the beer in Tokyo next month. So, what can they expect?

Alas, there won’t be much difference between the Sapporo Brewery’s 100% space barley brew when compared with a terrestrial grain as there is no measured difference in the DNA of barley grown in space when compared with barley grown on Earth. Therefore I doubt there will be any “eureka!” moment for the alcoholic beverage industry and therefore no immediate plans to launch a micro(gravity)brewery into orbit…

That said, this isn’t just a publicity stunt. The barley was grown as part of a joint Japanese/Russian experiment to test the suitability of certain crops to be grown in space. Along with the barley; wheat, peas and lettuce were also harvested. In previous tests, a Canadian research paper was presented revealing no difference between the DNA of barley grown in space when compared to the stuff grown on Earth. Although this kinda takes away from the possibility that space barley could make a better beer, it is reassuring to know that terrestrial foodstuffs can be grown in space with minimal risk of mutation (and possible hazardous side effects to space traveller’s health). Obviously more work will need to be done, with several generations of the same plant re-cultivated and harvested, but these first results are very exciting.

Hold on. Exciting? Why?

This is another step in the direction of a reduced dependence on Earth for the supply of food. If a Japanese brewery can produce 100 litres of beer from ingredients grown in space, we’ve made an important leap into the production of other consumables from ingredients grown in space. Imagine what this means for the future of mankind when we begin setting up colonies on the Moon and, eventually (in my lifetime I hope!) on Mars. The vision of cultivating food on other planets becomes one step closer to reality.

This is one of the International Space Station’s key strengths. It is a long-term scientific mission to assess man’s adaptability to a space-based environment. Growing barley in space is therefore not a commercial venture (Sapporo is not selling any of the Space Beer it produces, although the company will most certainly profit from some good exposure in the media), it is a critical step in our space-faring ability. Add this success to the recent installation of the urine recycling system added as part of the STS-126 shuttle mission to the ISS and you can see that we are beginning to cut the umbilical cord that prevents long-term manned space travel.

Hopefully, within 20 years, these techniques will have been perfected, allowing mankind to begin work on other planets, ultimately setting up self-sustaining colonies throughout the Solar System.

And all this excitement from the production of a small quantity of Space Beer…

For more, read my Universe Today article Cheers! Japanese Brewery Produces Space Beer… But What’s the Point?