CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida－The International Space Station bid adieu on Tuesday to 12 bottles of French Bordeaux wine and hundreds of snippets of grapevines which spent a year orbiting the world in the name of science.
SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule undocked from the station with the wine and vines along with thousands of kilograms of gear and research, including mice.
It was expected to splash down on Wednesday in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Tampa. The Atlantic had been targeted, but poor weather shifted the arrival to the other coast of Florida. SpaceX’s supply ships previously parachuted into the Pacific.
The carefully packed wine－each bottle nestled inside a steel cylinder to prevent breakage－remained corked aboard the orbiting lab. Space Cargo Unlimited, a Luxembourg startup behind the experiments, wanted the wine to age an entire year in space.
None of the bottles will be opened until the end of February. That’s when the company will pop open a bottle or two for an out-of-this-world wine tasting in Bordeaux by some of France’s top connoisseurs and experts.
Months of chemical testing will follow. Researchers are eager to see how space altered the sedimentation and bubbles of the wine.
Agricultural science is the primary objective, stresses Nicolas Gaume, the company’s CEO and co-founder. He admits though it will be fun to sample the wine. Gaume will be among the lucky few taking a sip.
“Our goal is to tackle the solution of how we’re going to have an agriculture tomorrow that is both organic and healthy and able to feed humanity, and we think space has the key,” Gaume said from Bordeaux.
With climate change, Gaume said agricultural products like grapes will need to adapt to harsher conditions. Through a series of space experiments, Space Cargo Unlimited hopes to take what’s learned by stressing the plants in weightlessness and turn that into more robust and resilient plants on Earth.
There’s another benefit. Gaume expects future explorers to the moon and Mars will want to enjoy some of Earth’s pleasures.
The wine hitched a ride to the space station in November 2019 aboard a Northrop Grumman supply ship. The 320 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vine snippets were launched by SpaceX last March.