By Parthshri Arora Feb. 06, 2018
On “The Nation Wants to Know”, we answer questions that have our editorial team scratching its head, and members of the research team sweating in their seats. This week, do space and alcohol mix?
Elon Musk, like your average mad scientist, has prepared to send a Tesla Roadster into space along with the Falcon Heavy rocket, because he liked the idea of an alien stumbling upon a car floating through space. To add to the excitement, the car will be blaring David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on its journey through the solar system.
While Elon is chasing his own grand dreams, we have much smaller ones. Now that we’ve taken a big step toward the first manned mission to Mars, the only burning question in the back of our heads is: Can you get drunk in space?
The answer might surprise you.
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to land on the moon, they celebrated the occasion like any self-respecting social butterflies would: They popped open a bottle. Aldrin had taken a cup from his church to the moon, so he opened a bottle of wine and saw it curl up like a furball into the chalice, owing to microgravity, then sat back, and enjoyed the view like a god. (They don’t call him “buzz” for no reason.)
But the Dilliwalla in all of us has no interest in swilling wine. We want to know if it’s possible to get “chaar bottle Vodka” drunk on a spacecraft? After all, shouldn’t you be getting drunker faster at higher altitudes?
Well apparently not. In 1985, a United States commissioned study monitored whether alcohol consumed at altitudes affected performances of complex tasks. The simulation resulted in the answer Honey Singh has been waiting for all his life: “There was no interactive effect of alcohol and altitude on either breathalyser readings or performance scores.”
Ever since, theories of astronauts indulging in drunken shenanigans have set the internet on fire. On the Russian space station Mir, it was considered normal, and in fact beneficial, for cosmonauts to consume some cognac. When Nasa’s Skylab was being built, there was talk about introducing Sherry on the menu. Since then, the two have gone down separate paths, with Nasa deciding to ban alcohol altogether, and Russia deciding it was safe to some alcohol in space.
"There is also the story of legendary Russian engineers, who smuggled bottles of alcohol into space through book covers and the hidden pockets of their space suits"
In 2007, NASA said that two of its astronauts got drunk the day before a flight (and pulled it off successfully btw!), taking drink driving to the next level, literally. There is also the story of legendary Russian engineers, who smuggled bottles of alcohol into space through book covers and the hidden pockets of their space suits, leading to tales of rave parties in frickin’ space.
Imagine two lanky Russian dudes getting sloshed after a long day of walking in Space. They blast open a bottle of Absolut, do shots in zero gravity, and float around. Then suddenly their heads get heavier, their stomachs start to churn, and the nausea starts building. Boom. Now puke is floating around a $500 million spacecraft where our astronauts, untrained in the art of catching chunks of space food, are trying to escape from this floating goop of death. They can’t possibly make their way to Neptune, can they? Now hypothetically imagine an asteroid was hurtling towards Earth at the same time. It’s hard to make saving the entire species a priority when your co-worker’s regurgitated lunch is flying into your eye, isn’t it? So maybe just the one drink is enough then.
Once humans start setting up colonies on other planets/satellites we can reinvent the agricultural process of fermenting alcohol that can be drunk in zero gravity. Then astronauts can maybe kick back and drink a cold beer. Until then grab yourself a bottle and head down to your closest observatory and enjoy the ride.
Lover of baby animals, Arsene Wenger, Damien Rice, Peggy Olsen and overly long podcasts. Tweets at @parthsarora.
Confused about most stuff. Writes things.