[Image above] Rendering of the space cocktail glass designed by the Open Space Agency for Ballantine; Credit: Ballantines; YouTube
Sometimes, a cocktail can help take the edge off during a long airplane flight. I’d venture to guess that goes for travel beyond earth’s atmosphere, too.
One day, space tourism will be a reality for the lucky few who can afford the journey. When that day comes, a celebratory cocktail in microgravity will be in order. But the problem with drinking in space is that liquids don’t stay confined to their glasses. They ball up and float around without the gravitational pull of being grounded on earth. That’s why in any videos of astronauts drinking in space throughout the decades, they’re sipping Tang from plastic bags with straws.
That’s no way to savor a much-needed space cocktail.
Rest assured, the makers of Ballantine Scotch are already on the case. They’re funding the development of the perfect open-topped space glass for drinking whisky in microgravity.
[Whisky or whiskey? There’s a difference.]
The cup—which actually isn’t made of glass, but is instead 3-D-printed plastic—is filled through a one-way valve of the cup’s bottom, which also contains a magnet to keep the vessel firmly seated on a metal surface.
“The bottom of the bulbous glass, made of gold-plated stainless steel, contains a spiral ring for a reservoir of whisky to cling to. Through a phenomenon known as capillary action… the whisky is drawn upward through a helical channel within the side of the glass to a mouthpiece at the rim for a space traveler to drink,” describes the New York Times’ Kenneth Chang in a NYT article about how the cup, designed by the Open Space Agency for Ballantine, works.
Capillary action is “overwhelmed by the earth’s downward drag of gravity,” Chang explains.
So James Parr, founder of the Open Space Agency, put the design to the test and took the space glass to Bremen, Germany, to a 480 foot-tall lab called “the drop tower.”
“Whisky was poured into the bottom of the glass, which was then placed into a cylindrical capsule and winched to the top of a vacuum-sealed shaft. Dropping the capsule down the airless shaft creates nearly zero-gravity conditions for about four seconds, until it makes a cushioned landing at the bottom,” Chang writes.
Parr had video cameras set up to record the motion of the whisky during the drop. “The whisky started climbing up the capillary to the mouthpiece, and it happened completely to script,” Parr says in the NYT article.
Space Glass Project: The Microgravity Test; Credit: Ballantines, YouTube
And, apparently, a special space glass isn’t the only consideration for space whisky. Space research company NanoRacks partnered with Scottish whisky distillery Ardbeg back in 2011 to send un-aged whisky to the International Space Station for a microgravity distillation experiment to test how the microgravity of space affects terpenes, the compounds that determine whisky’s flavor.
The results came back last September, and NanoRacks just released findings that revealed space whisky taste “noticeably different” than earth-distilled whisky. Check out the white paper.