ISS getting samples of Japanese whisky

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The International Space Station (ISS) will soon be receiving samples of Japanese whisky – not for astronauts aboard the station to drink, but for experiments on the effects of microgravity on mellowness of the whisky.

Dubbed “Elucidating the Mechanism Mellowing Alcoholic Beverage”, the project is the brain child of Suntory Global Innovation Center. The research will be conducted in the ISS’s Japanese Experiment Module (nicknamed “Kibo”), with the cooperation of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

H-II Transfer Vehicle No. 5, commonly known as “Kounotori5” or HTV5, is scheduled to be launched from JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center on August 16 (Sunday) carrying alcohol beverages produced by Suntory to the Japanese Experiment Module aboard the International Space Station, where experiments on the “development of mellowness” will be conducted for a period of about one year in Group 1 and for two or more years (undecided) in Group 2.

As alcoholic beverages age – with the exception of some items like beer – they mellow and though researchers have been trying to find out the underlying mechanism, they haven’t been able to garner the full picture.

This is what Suntory Global is trying to do with their hypothesis that “the formation of high-dimensional molecular structure consisting of water, ethanol, and other ingredients in alcoholic beverages contributes to the development of mellowness.”

The company has already been working on this topic in collaboration with research groups of Professor Shigenao Maruyama of the Institute of Fluid Science, Tohoku University and Professor Mitsuhiro Shibayama of the Institute for Solid State Physics, the University of Tokyo, the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute and Suntory Foundation for Life Sciences.

The results of these collaborative researches have suggested the probability that mellowness develops by promoted formation of the high-dimensional molecular structure in the alcoholic beverage in environments where liquid convection is suppressed.

On the basis of these results, the space experiments will be conducted to verify the effect of the convection-free state created by a microgravity environment to the mellowing of alcoholic beverage.

The Suntory Group aims to use these experiments to help find a scientific explanation for the “mechanism that makes alcohol mellow.”