The International Space Station bid adieu on Tuesday to 12 bottles of Bordeaux wine and hundreds of snippets of grapevines that spent a year orbiting the world in the name of science.
The wine and vines â€“ and thousands of pounds of other gear and research, including mice â€“ will splashdown onboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule on Wednesday night in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Tampa.
The bottles of French wine â€“ each bottle nestled inside a steel cylinder to prevent breakage â€“ remained corked aboard the orbiting lab.
None of the bottles will be opened until the end of February. Thatâ€™s when Space Cargo Unlimited, the company behind the experiments, will pop open a bottle or two for a tasting in Bordeaux by some of Franceâ€™s top connoisseurs. Months of chemical testing will follow. Researchers are eager to see how space altered the sedimentation and bubbles.
Agricultural science was the primary objective, said Nicolas Gaume, the companyâ€™s CEO and co-founder, although he admits it will be fun to sample the wine.
â€œOur goal is to tackle the solution of how weâ€™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,â€ Gaume said from Bordeaux.
With climate change, Gaume said agricultural products such as grapes will need to adapt to harsher conditions. Through a series of space experiments, Space Cargo Unlimited hopes to take lessons learned from stressing the plants in weightlessness and translate that into more robust and resilient plants on Earth.
Thereâ€™s another benefit. Gaume expects future explorers to the moon and Mars will want to enjoy some of Earthâ€™s pleasures. â€œBeing French, itâ€™s part of life to have some good food and good wine,â€ he told the Associated Press.
Gaume said private investors helped fund the experiments. He declined to provide the project cost.
The wine hitched a ride to the space station in November 2019 aboard a Northrop Grumman supply ship. The 320 merlot and cabernet sauvignon vine snippets, called canes in the grape-growing business, were launched by SpaceX last March.