Did You Know Astronauts Are Banned from Getting Drunk in Space?

Did you know astronauts are banned from getting drunk in space? Otherwise, Neil Armstrong’s quote may have gone, “That’s one small step for man, one giant … hey, anyone have a bottle opener?”

Beer, wine, and otherwise (let’s just call it “whiskey”) certainly have their place on Earth. Beyond the limits of our own world, though, things are a little different. Bryan Lufkin of the BBC writes, “Unfortunately for space explorers looking to wet their whistle, consuming alcoholic beverages is widely prohibited by the government agencies that send them to places like the International Space Station.”

But why? The author of this particular article moved from Pennsylvania out to sunshiny Denver, Colorado. Drinking whiskey down closer to sea-level is undeniably different than drinking at altitude. Thus, it seems to make sense that drinking up in space would cause the body to react differently. That’s not how science works, though.

In 1985,” writes Lufkin, “the US Federal Aviation Administration conducted a study that monitored whether alcohol consumed at simulated altitudes affected performances of complex tasks and breathalyser readings.”

“In the study, 17 men were asked to down some vodka both at ground level and in a chamber that simulated an altitude of 12,500ft (3.7 kilometres). They were then asked to complete tasks including mental maths, tracking lights on an oscilloscope with a joystick, and a variety of other tests. The researchers found ‘there was no interactive effect of alcohol and altitude on either breathalyzer readings or performance scores.'”

Long story short: Drinking at altitude, whether it’s in space or in Denver, may not truly effect you differently. The research in Lufkin’s article points to a “drink-think” scenario. This means that if you think you should feel drunk, you may “be” drunk more quickly. (Kind of cool, no?) We digress.

The reason astronauts can’t drink isn’t because it will make them drunk more quickly. They won’t get their buzz (Aldrin) on any differently than on Earth. (We’ve been waiting for that one.) So what gives? Lufkin explains:

“‘Alcohol is not permitted onboard the International Space Station [ISS] for consumption,’ says Daniel G Huot, spokesperson for Nasa’s Johnson Space Center. ‘Use of alcohol and other volatile compounds are controlled on ISS due to impacts their compounds can have on the station’s water recovery system.'”

That covers all types of alcohol. Mouthwashes and perfumes containing alcohol are also banned once one leaves this planet. On top of that, we’re not allowed to drive cars drunk. It only makes sense that space vehicles shouldn’t be driven by an intoxicated driver either.

Lufkin puts it wonderfully, saying, “We don’t allow car drivers or jet pilots to be drunk and in charge of their vehicles, so it is hardly surprising the same rules apply to astronauts inside a $150 billion space station travelling through a near vacuum at 17,200mph.”

So has booze ever been consumed in space? Yes.

“Perhaps most surprisingly,” writes Lufkin, “the first liquid to be drunk on the surface of the moon was wine. Buzz Aldrin has said in interviews and in his book that he sipped a small amount of wine while taking communion before he and Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar lander module in 1969.”

Additionally, Russians aboard the space station Mir were allowed to consume small quantities of both cognac and vodka. A Japanese brewer supposedly shipped some whiskey to the space station as well. They wanted to see if the way “booze ages in microgravity could be different, causing it to taste better, faster.”

NASA has sponsored an experiment along similar lines. They aged whiskey and wood in which whiskey is aged in in space. The result? The space whiskey brought a whole new definition to the term “moon shine.” It purportedly tasted fantastic.

Lufkin’s BBC article ends hypothesizing about space drinking rules potentially becoming less restrictive as we look at sending common people to Mars. It doesn’t appear that any rules will change any time soon, though.

For now, all we can do is sip our whiskey on our front porches, looking up and wondering if Jack Daniels himself is looking at the same moon we are.

Read More: Chinese Shuttle Stows Vines in Hopes of Finding Perfect ‘Space Wine’