Here's Why Booze Is Banned in Space

Astronaut in outer space. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.
No beer, wine or liquor allowed for NASA space explorers. (Image: forplayday/iStock/Getty Images)

NASA has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to astronauts consuming alcoholic bevvies in space. In our opinion, any woman or man who successfully travels into orbit deserves a glass of bubbly — but we don’t make the rules.

There are reasons aside from the obvious why astronauts aren’t allowed booze in space, and they involve urine and burping. Daniel G. Huot, spokesperson for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, tells BBC’s Bryan Lufkin, “Use of alcohol and other volatile compounds are controlled on the International Space Station (ISS) due to impacts their compounds can have on the station’s water-recovery system." In other words, booze-tainted urine could damage the space station’s system that processes wastewater into drinkable water.

Another reason booze is prohibited in space? The bubbles in carbonated beverages like Champagne or beer could do a number on an astronaut’s stomach. “Without the assistance of gravity, liquid and gases can tumble around in an astronaut’s stomach, causing the [astronaut] to produce rather soggy burps,” explains Lufkin. Soggy burps released in a confined environment like the ISS sound particularly undesirable.

But as many reasons as NASA has for not permitting alcohol consumption in space, it doesn’t mean sipping the sauce while floating through the galaxy hasn’t happened. Buzz Aldrin drank wine on the lunar module before stepping onto the moon in 1969. In a Guideposts magazine article from 1970, Aldrin wrote,” In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.”

And then there’s Russia, whose cosmonauts sipped small amounts of vodka and cognac on the Russian Space Station, Mir. “It was like any people on Earth who have weekends, holidays. We needed to relax, so we would allow ourselves a sip of cognac,” cosmonaut Aleksandr Lazutkin told the Los Angeles Times.

Although NASA’s policies on booze aren’t quite as lax as the Russian’s, don’t feel too bad for NASA’s astronauts. Although they don’t get to wind down with a glass of pinot at the end of a long day while floating through space, they do get to eat burritos while in orbit. That’s right, tortillas first became popular on NASA space missions in the 1980s. And for that, all space travelers should feel thankful.

—Erin Mosbaugh

Erin has made telling stories about food her profession. You can find those stories in Food & Wine, LA Weekly, Serious Eats, KCET, Robb Report and First We Feast.

What Do YOU Think?

Should astronauts be allowed to drink responsibly in space? If humans one day colonize Mars, should they be able to drink on the flight over? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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