If you've glossed over recent headlines touting Champagne designed to drink in a zero-gravity setting, here's why space bubbly is more important than you might think.
Credit: Courtesy of Mumm

Maybe you saw the news. Last week, the Champagne house G.H. Mumm officially unveiled its latest innovation: Mumm Grand Cordon Stellar—billed as the first bottle of Champagne specifically designed to be consumed in space. The occasion was marked with Mumm’s “Chief Entertainment Officer” Usain Bolt traveling aboard a zero-gravity plane, slurping floating spheres of bubbly and running a near-weightless race. Plenty of major media outlets were onboard: the AP, Reuters, CNN, and (humbly) yours truly.

But why space Champagne? Champagne, possibly more than any other beverage, is a drink associated with celebration. And clearly, for the vast majority of humanity that hasn’t traveled into space, such a journey would be toast-worthy. But at the same time, Champagne is also often associated with excess, a pricey status-symbol sipped by the aristocracy. With all the issues humanity faces, aren’t their more pressing problems to be solved than how to bring a drink embraced by the elite to an even more elite subset?

Though Mumm received most of the publicity from its Grand Cordon Stellar, the question of why zero-gravity Champagne is worth pursuing is best answered by Spade – the space-focused design company behind the technical components of the bottle. Spade actually began development of this bottle years before Mumm joined in to help with the cause.

“We are looking at a future where space is not going to be so far away,” explains founder Octave De Gaulle. “And we want to say that humans are not just functioning bodies: We have rituals; we have culture. We have some stuff we can bring from Earth that is not just about surviving. All our projects are about what comes after survival.”

To put it another way, up until this point, the primary concern of space travel has been space travel itself: How do we get up there, how do we survive once we’re there, and what additional work needs to be done? But as we reach the dawn of recreational space travel, new questions emerge: How do we remain human in this alien setting? How do we maintain our quality of life?

To keep their sanity, astronauts have always tried to bring a bit of home with them, whether it’s playing music in space or making space pizzas. But astronauts are also on the job, meaning recreational pursuits take the backburner. Future space travelers will likely have different expectations—and De Gaulle believes it could be happening within a decade.

“The forecast is in the next ten years,” he tells me. “I might guess a bit before 10 years. That would mean the first commercial flights from one point to another on Earth—say from London to New York in one hour—going into orbit with four minutes of zero gravity. In these four minutes, you could enjoy some sort of playful experience. It’s not just about drinking Champagne… It’s all those things that fascinate you in weightlessness.”

Another design project Spade is working on is reimagining how people sleep in space, and as De Gaulle explains, the moral of why sleeping in space is important also applies to Champagne. “When you sleep on Earth, you’re actually dreaming of flying,” he says with a smile. “When you are out there flying, you just want to lie down a bit because that push on your back is what relaxes you and what allows you to rest, and you don’t have that in zero-gravity.” Again, like drinking bubby outside the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s about bringing the comforts of home with you.

And counterintuitively enough, in many ways, the audacity of drinking Champagne in space is what grounds it. Certainly, designers could continue to perfect things like astronaut ice cream or space pizzas, but toasting Champagne in space is a much bigger idea: one worth talking about. “Champagne shows the excellence of technique. It’s one of the most historical beverages produced by man,” De Gaulle says. “It’s also a product of the ground, and a product of culture. So we have absolutely no shame bringing that to space.”

And by creating a product that gets people talking, Matt Sindall, a British designer who helped launch Spade, sees another potential benefit: molding the discussion around space in general and turning it back toward positivity, toward optimism. “How about not talking about a ‘Space Force’?” he said. “How about looking at space and seeing an opportunity for mankind?”

That’s an idea that is certainly worth a toast.