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.”
Aboard the International Space Station (@ISS), astronaut Thomas Pesquet (@thom_astro) of the European Space Agency (@europeanspaceagency) snapped this photo and wrote, "Looking down at Earth's features, I often forget that looking sideways is equally impressive!" Credit: NASA/ESA #nasa #space #iss #spacestation #astronauts #esa #earth #Proxima
“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.
Today we honor the Apollo 1 crew, who were lost in a tragic accident 50 years ago today. Astronauts, from the left, Gus Grissom, Ed White II and Roger Chaffee stand near Cape Kennedy's Launch Complex 34 during training for Apollo 1 in January 1967. On Jan. 27, 1967, the three astronauts were preparing for what was to be the first manned Apollo flight. The astronauts were sitting atop the launch pad for a pre-launch test when a fire broke out in their Apollo capsule. The investigation into the fatal accident led to major design and engineering changes, making the Apollo spacecraft safer for the coming journeys to the moon. We will honor members of the NASA family, including the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery during out annual Day of Remembrance on Tuesday, Jan. 31. Image Credit: NASA #nasa #nasaremembers #apollo1
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.'”
We are saddened by the loss of retired NASA astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, died today, Jan. 16. "We leave as we came, and, God willing, we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind." — Cernan's closing words on leaving the moon at the end of Apollo 17 Credit: NASA #nasa #apollo #apollo17 #space #moon
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.
Supermoon seen from space! Aboard the International Space Station (@ISS), NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson posted this image on Dec. 14 captured by European Space Agency (@europeanspaceagency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet. She wrote, 'Look at this! Absolutely Stunning! @Thom_astro captured the super moon!' Thomas, wrote, 'This is tonight's "#supermoon" seen from space! The last one I saw was in Baikonur… I like this one better! ;)' Credit: ESA/NASA #nasa #iss #space #moon #supermoon #esa
“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.”
Sahara desert from space! Middle school students programmed a camera aboard the International Space Station (@ISS) — the Sally Ride EarthKAM — to photograph this portion of the Sahara desert in western Libya on October 3, 2016. In early November 2016, the Expedition 50 crew set up the EarthKAM gear once again in the Harmony module's Earth-facing hatch window, to allow students to photograph targets on Earth and downlink the imagery. EarthKAM is the only program providing students with such direct control of an instrument on a spacecraft orbiting Earth, teaching them about environmental science, geography and space communications. The project was initiated by Dr. Sally Ride, America's first woman in space, in 1995 and called KidSat. Image Credit: Sally Ride EarthKAM #nasa #space #iss #spacestation
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.