Case of Bordeaux Wine Returns to Earth After a Year in Space

Last week a dozen bottles splashed into the Gulf of Mexico inside SpaceX’s Dragon capsule after a year aboard the International Space Station

SpaceX Cargo Dragon
The SpaceX Cargo Dragon capsule separating from the International Space Station after undocking from the Harmony module’s international docking adapter. NASA TV

Last week, a dozen bottles of red wine from France’s Bordeaux region returned to Earth after a year in orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS), reports Marcia Dunn for the Associated Press (AP).

The case of wine, along with 320 sections of grapevine called vine canes, splashed into the Gulf of Mexico inside SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule. Other experiments and gear weighing thousands of pounds also returned to Earth, including 3-D engineered heart tissues and live mice, reports Ryan W. Miller for USA Today.

As for the wine, it was sent to the ISS by Space Cargo Unlimited (SCU) as an experiment aimed at investigating “how space radiation and microgravity affect wine components during the aging process,” according to a November 2019 statement from the company. The bottles went into space in December 2019 inside specially designed steel cylinders to prevent them from breaking.

At the end of February, SCU will uncork a few bottles in France and invite expert wine tasters to sample the space-aged wine in hopes of learning more about how it may have changed during its year away from our planet, reports Jack Guy for CNN. After the human taste tests, months of chemical and biological analysis will follow, per the AP.

"Wine making and maturation is an extremely relevant multi-component biological process involving key elements such as yeast, bacteria, crystals, colloids, and polyphenols,” the company said in its 2019 statement. “Very little is known about how the taste and chemical composition of wine is affected during the ageing process."

Meanwhile, the vine canes are going to be flown to France for analysis at the University of Bordeaux’s wine institute where they will be studied and compared to control samples that remained here on Earth. The vine canes include 160 of Cabernet Sauvignon and 160 of Merlot, reports Chris Mercer for Decanter.

"We’ll do a whole genome sequencing of the plants, to provide a clear view of all the DNA changes that could have happened on the stay on the ISS,” Nicolas Gaume, the company’s CEO and cofounder, tells Decanter.

One of the hopes is that the unique stresses that space travel placed on the vines might fuel advances in agriculture. Gaume tells the AP that grapes and other crops will need to adapt to harsher conditions as climate change intensifies, and that the goal of his company’s experiments is to help develop the robust and resilient plants necessary to meet those challenges.

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