Astronauts do important things when they go up in space, like search for evidence of alien life forms, explore the mysteries of the universe, perform scientific experiments and, you know, make beer.
OK, they don't actually brew beer. But, for five months in 2006, crew members aboard the International Space Station babysat some barley seeds that were then used to make the world's first "space beer." The extraterrestrial brew was produced through a partnership between Japan's Sapporo brewery, researchers from Okayama University and the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The project was designed to study the impact of extreme environmental stresses on barley. No word on how the barley was affected but obviously it wasn't too stressed out to become beer. In fact, the project worked well enough that the group is now trying the same thing with hops.
This isn't the first agricultural experiment at the space station. In 2003, Dupont scientists cultivated the first soybeans in space, and found that they were similar to Earth-grown crops. According to the Telegraph, other crops being studied on the International Space Station include wheat, peas and lettuce.
The first batch of the strange brew made from the barley, in 2008, produced only 100 liters, and most of that was used for experiments. (I presume these were more scientific than my own youthful beer "experiments," which included testing hypotheses such as, "Mixing Corona and ice cream will be delicious!")
But now Sapporo is selling a limited quantity of the beer, made from the fourth generation of barley. A mere 250 six-packs of Space Barley, as it's called, will be sold by lottery, for about $115 each. Only Japanese citizens are eligible to enter the lottery, and proceeds will go to promote science education in Japan.
So, if you're looking for a cool holiday gift for your favorite beer nerd or space aficionado, and you have 10,000 Yen in your pocket and a Japanese friend who owes you a favor, you know what to do. As space food goes, it beats freeze-dried ice cream.