Beer in Space tour could be possible by 2013

Beer in Space tour could be possible by 2013

An Australian travel company teams with space engineers to plan the ultimate pub crawl

There's only one element in the universe that could possibly make the majestic view of the Earth from outer space even more god-like. That, of course, would be beer.

That's the idea, anyway, behind a Beer in Space tour currently being planned by Australian pub tour operator Thirsty Swagman.

Successful early "space beer" tests have the company hoping to get its tour buzzing off the launch pad by 2012 or 2013.

“We want to be the first tour company to offer beer in space,” says Thirsty Swagman owner Kenneth Hart.

Click here for Video: A flight researcher samples 4 Pines Brewing's Vostok Space Beer and takes biometric readings -- including skin temperature and Breathalyzer analysis -- during a zero-gravity flight.

In space, the company will provide a brew specially crafted by the Australia-based 4 Pines Brewing Company to be consumed in a low-gravity environment.

In February, the beer successfully completed the first of several trial flights, according to a press release by Saber Astronautics Australia, a Sydney-based space-engineering company that has partnered with 4 PInes to help develop the world's first space beer.

While astronauts are rumored to have consumed alcohol on flights, NASA forbids drinking in space, so formal studies on the effects of alcohol in space have not previously been carried out.

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Drinking in space requires slightly more prep work than your average keg party.

Chug one in space for a mere $95,000

Thirsty Swagman aims to package flights that allow tourists to ascend 300,000 feet into the sky, past the Kármán line (where outer space is said to begin) into zero gravity. Subject to change, prices are set to begin at US$95,000.

Drinker/astronauts will be weightless for five to 10 minutes, during which time they'll enjoy a nice view of earth while sipping a Vostok Space Beer, the 4 Pines beer brewed for consumption in space.

Though it has all the makings of a good hoax, the masterminds behind the plan swear they're serious.

Saber Astronautics Australia director Jason Held calls the plan "viable" and "real."

"The conditions are being set," Held promises. 

Making "space beer"

In an unconventional partnership, Saber Astronautics Australia engineers teamed with 4 Pines Brewing to conceive a tasty stout that, at 5.1 percent alcohol, can be consumed in zero gravity.

“The beer was started with a crafted recipe from 4 Pines Brewery," Held says. "Their flavors are really nice and sharp, which is important when producing anything consumable in space.”

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“There are two considerations when developing a space beer," Held continues. "First, your sense of taste decreases over time. This is because your blood does not pool at your feet the way it does on earth.

In space, you get tested before you drink, not after. Here, a hopeful space guzzler checks his skin temperature.“Because the face and tongue swell up a little bit (in space), some astronauts have described it as kind of like having a mild head cold. No big deal, but it does affect the flavor."

The bigger problem is recreating that magical fizz craved by beer lovers.

“The second issue is carbonation," Held says. "In space, gas and liquid don’t like to separate, so if you feel like you want to burp, you’ll get a wet burp.”

Not a complete disaster, depending on the company, but still, something most drinkers prefer to avoid.

“If you remove carbonation altogether, your beer is nothing more than an alcoholic tea," Held explains. "So space beer has to have balance -- enough carbonation to taste good, but low enough to be comfortable for drinking.”

Saber Astronautics Australia tested various recipes in environments as close to space as it could simulate. The first was in a 23-meter "drop tower," which provided a two-second window in which to study the effects of zero gravity on beer.

“Then we had a person drink small cups in a modified Boeing 727 for bursts of 30 seconds of zero gravity, to prove that the beer was tasty and comfortable to drink," says Held.

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Space buzz: How strong will it be?

Beer in space sounds like a good idea (as we're not piloting the ship), but it might be too soon for college students and other champion booze hounds to start booking tickets. According to Hart, since they'll be able to consume so little beer, pioneering space guzzlers won’t actually feel much effect from the alcohol.

“They will likely only be drinking a sample size of about 150 to 250 milliliters of beer,” Held says.

Stout from 4 Pines tastes delicious on earth, too.Like taking a step on the moon or reading "War and Peace," it’s all about saying you’ve been there and done that.

Flight logistics on the Thirsty Swagman Beer in Space tour will depend on the space carrier the company ultimately partners with.

The company is in talks with space tour operators such as Virgin, Rocketship and Armadillo, according to Hart, but dates and commitments are unconfirmed.

“There are no firm dates yet, because so many of the regulations for commercial space flight are still being drawn up," says Hart.

"The Space Beer is to meet expected demand from the soon to launch space tourism market, which will have thousands of passengers booked on suborbitalflights starting in 2012," according to a press release from Saber Astronautics Australia.

“Four Pines supplies the beer, and Saber Astronautics conducts the experiments," concludes Held. "Our work with (Thirsty Swagman) is in fairly early days and we’re hoping to make it happen."

Thirsty Swagman specializes in "drinking adventures" that combine international traveling with pub crawls. The company's previous offerings have included a round-the-world pub crawl, on which tourists went on the drinking binge of a lifetime, from Sydney to Düsseldorf to Hawaii.

The $95,000 Beer in Space tour will include a space flight, two to three days of preparation for the flight, Vostok Space Beer, an after-party, video production, space-beer shirt and astronaut certificate. For more information visit www.beerinspace.com.

Jane Leung is a Hong Kong-born Canadian who has dabbled in the mixed media bag of film and television production, the professional sports industry and magazine publishing. 

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