Producing Wine in Space Is ‘Possible,’ Says NASA Scientist
But let’s just say it’s not high on their list of priorities.
In the past couple years, we’ve already seen how NASA astronauts on the International Space Station are not only growing, but actually eating produce harvested in space – things like lettuce and cabbage. Granted, the amounts being grown are barely enough to make a proper salad, let alone start pairing it with wine. But the fact that NASA has been able to successfully grow anything at all led Gizmodo to jump to the big question: When can we expect our first vintage of space wine?
“Wine grapes would be an interesting challenge,” said Gioia Massa, principal investigator for NASA’s Vegetable Production System also known as “Veggie.” “We have been working with some dwarf fruit trees that the USDA developed, and I have heard that they also have some dwarf grape vines, so if the plants were small enough or could be trained around, for example, lights, it would certainly be possible to grow them.”
According to Massa, the biggest issues with grape vines are the size and the way they grow. “Most plants for space are super compact, but if you had vines that you could coil or clip a larger plant might be an option,” Massa explained. “Getting light to a sprawling vine is definitely a challenge...you would want very compact varieties.” Maybe NASA could speak with the winemakers of Santorini about how to grow vines in that crazy basket shape? But even then, another major challenge would be pollination. Massa says next year astronauts will attempt to pollinate dwarf tomatoes by hand, a process that could possibly be replicated with grapes.
Still, grapes are only part of the wine equation. Fermentation in space is another tricky subject – but one that those with their eyes to the skies have been talking about tackling. Earlier this year, a group of college kids designed a project to test brewing beer in space. Massa agreed that converting sugars to alcohol in space isn’t science fiction. “For the actual process of wine making I am really not sure, but I would suspect a microbial bioreactor could be developed which would allow the fermentation and other processes to occur in microgravity,” she told Gizmodo. “Fermentation is an anaerobic process so the fact that fluids and gasses don’t mix well in space might not be a problem for that process. You might have to inoculate with the right types of microorganisms but I think it would definitely be possible.”
So there you have it, growing space grapes and converting them into space wine would “certainly” and “definitely” “be possible.” Bear in mind, however, that another NASA spokesperson told Food & Wine via email that, “To clarify, NASA is not working on enabling making wine in space but in producing fresh vegetables for astronauts’ nourishment on long duration spaceflights. …The plan is eventually to grow tomatoes and perhaps peppers and cucumbers — but not grapes.” Hey, it was just a thought.