While fellow students are knocking back Solo cups of light beer at keggers or dabbling in homebrewing in off-campus apartment basements, a group of UC San Diego engineering students has designed an experiment to brew beer in space. Members of Team Original Gravity, as they call themselves, are finalists in the Lab2Moon competition being held by TeamIndus, a group with a contract to send a spacecraft to the moon as part of the Google Lunar XPRIZE challenge. If selected from among the other 25 group finalists, Original Gravity would be the first to brew beer on the moon. Naturally, we had questions; naturally, these researchers are busy … so we reached them via email for this Q&A with the intergalactic-minded brewers.
DRAFT: What are some of the potential implications of your research (beyond beer)?
Original Gravity PR & Operations lead Neeki Ashari: Yeast is one of the most prevalent microorganisms around. It is a major component in all of our everyday necessities, such as foods like bread, beverages and pharmaceuticals like insulin. It is a necessity, which the majority of humans have become dependent on. This experiment would far exceed brewing applications and would actually serve a vital purpose. If we can understand this, it can play an essential role in consumptive and clinical applications for the future of colonization in space exploration.
DRAFT: What is the largest challenge in converting Earth brewing mechanisms to a space environment?
Ashari: The largest challenge would have to be temperature and the inability to outgas. The temperature fluctuations are not ideal for yeast, at -10º to 45ºC nor for the outgassing in space. This is due to low gravity and lack of air resistance, which can possibly throw the Rover off its designated course. To avoid this issue, we had to calculate the ideal ratio of fluid to canister volume, such that the beer would incorporate the perfect amount of carbonation without the possibility of exploding.
DRAFT: Once the unfermented wort has had contact with the yeast, do you intend for the beer to travel back to Earth to be consumed?
Ashari: No, it will not be coming back to Earth nor will it be consumed. We are producing roughly 15mL, it’s such a small amount! This is just an experiment for scientific purposes.
DRAFT: Is there a specific style or recipe for this beer, and if so, why did you choose that?
Ashari: We used a low-gravity porter. It seemed fitting with the play-on-words, but it also performs perfectly for our mission. The reason for this was because gravity equals sugar concentration. Thus, the lower the gravity, the less the sugar concentration. Less sugar concentration means the yeast would only consume a small amount and generate a limited amount of CO2 and ethanol. Reduced CO2 means less pressure and would help us avoid any possible pressure burst inside the canister!
DRAFT: What will you have to demonstrate to the judges in March in order for them to (hopefully) select your project?
Ashari: We will confidently display to the panel that our canister performs exactly the way we claimed. In our case, we will show separation of the yeast and the wort until we allow them to mix. We will show that the canister acting as a fermentation chamber can both ferment and carbonate the beer simultaneously, without exploding. Lastly, we will hypothesize as to how and why the beer fermented on the moon will be different from the actual one fermented in an identical canister on Earth.