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Why the Nation of Georgia Wants to Make Wine on Mars

Researchers there are looking for grape varieties that can grow in Martian soil and survive high radiation and carbon monoxide

( NASA/JPL-Caltech )
smithsonian.com

When and if humanity establishes a colony on Mars, it’s likely someone will want to kick back after a hard day of terraforming with a nice glass of Chardonnay. Luckily, the nation of Georgia has them covered. Amie Ferris-Rotman at The Washington Post reports the nation is funding a research project to develop varieties of wine grapes that can survive on the Red Planet.

So why is a small country in the Caucasus spending its resources on space wine? The most recent archaeological evidence suggests that the oldest known wine making in the world took place in the region 8,000 years ago, pegging Georgia as the birthplace of vino. Logically so, Georgia wants to keep that title on other planets as well.

“If we’re going to live on Mars one day, Georgia needs to contribute,” Nikoloz Doborjginidze, founder of Georgia’s Space Research Agency, part of the wine project tells Ferris-Rotman. “Our ancestors brought wine to Earth, so we can do the same to Mars.”

The initiative—called IX Millennium, which refers to the length of time Georgians have been cultivating wine grapes—is a consortium of government agencies, academic viticulturists and entrepreneurs. Lauren Eads at The Drinks Business reports the group will look at the state-run grape library in Saguramo, located north of Tbilisi, which currently grows 450 native varieties and 350 foreign varieties of grapes. The team will search for grapes that can deal with the Martian soil and higher radiation levels.

Students at the Business Technology University in Tbilisi will soon test the effects of radiation, high carbon monoxide and sub-zero temperatures on a variety of grapes and will try to grow them in simulated Martian soil. One variety that is already of interest is called rkatsiteli, a common Georgian variety that is high in acid. The team believes they should have a Mars-friendly grape variety ready by 2022.

Georgia is also testing the idea of space farming by constructing a vertical farming lab in the Hotel Stamba in Tbilisi, reports Agenda.ae, which will grow grape vines and other fruits and vegetables in pods designed to be built in a space colony.

Wine is not the only adult beverage vying to be the first on Mars. Brandon Specktor at LiveScience reports that Anheuser-Busch, the makers of Budweiser beer, has launched a Bud on Mars project, sending three batches of barley to the International Space Station to see how microgravity affects germination, malting and fermentation. According to a press release, the experiments could help the company develop barley varieties that are more tolerant of extreme stress.

But the big question for wine lovers is what style will ultimately make it to the red planet—red or white? Researchers won’t know until they finish their test, but Levan Ujmajuridze, director of Georgia’s Scientific-Research Center of Agriculture, tells Ferris-Rotman that odds are currently on white wines.

“Whites tend to be more resistant to viruses,” he says. “So, I’d imagine they’ll do well against radiation, too. Their skin could reflect it.”

However, there is some evidence that red wine can help protect against radiation poisoning, so astro-sommeliers may want to opt for a nice radiation-killing Syrah.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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