A dozen bottles of French wine are making their descent into Earth’s atmosphere and are set to splash down in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday after orbiting the planet from which they came – and aging – for more than a year.
The SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft undocked Tuesday and is heading for the waters off Tampa carrying thousands of pounds of research materials and gear, including the case of French Bordeaux, hundreds of grapevines, mice and 3D-engineered heart tissues.
As some of the experiments make their way back to Earth, it sets off a time crunch to get them to a lab to be sampled and studied as they begin experiencing the effects of gravity again, according to NASA’s Space Station Research blog.
A SpaceX boat will grab the experiments from the capsule and a team will load time-sensitive ones into a helicopter to be brought back to shore, NASA said.
As for the wine, the bottles won’t be opened until the end of February. Luxembourg-based Space Cargo Unlimited will open a bottle or two for tasting and then chemical testing.
Nicolas Gaume, CEO of Space Cargo Unlimited, said the experiment’s primary objective is agricultural science. How space affected the wine’s sedimentation and bubbles is among researchers’ interests.
“Wine making and maturation is an extremely relevant multi-component biological process involving key elements such as yeast, bacteria, crystals, colloids, and
polyphenols. Very little is known about how the taste and chemical composition of wine is affected during the ageing process,” the company said in a statement at the time of the bottles’ launch.
Part of the motivation for the experiments, Gaume said, stems from climate change and the need for agricultural products, including grapes for winemaking, to adapt.
“Our goal is to tackle the solution of how we’re going to have an agriculture tomorrow that is both organic and healthy and able to feed humanity, and we think space has the key,” Gaume said.
Also part of the experiment are 320 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vine snippets, which were launched into space last March.
The bottles of French wine were packaged inside steel cylinders and remain uncorked since they were sent into orbit in November 2019.
Gaume, who will be among those tasting the space Bordeaux, said he hopes the experiment proves useful for future space explorers to enjoy the drink on the moon and Mars.
“Being French, it’s part of life to have some good food and good wine,” he said.