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Is it time to lift alcohol ban in space?
by Boris Pavlischev for VOR News
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Feb 12, 2014

File image.

Russians were not only the first to travel to space. They were also the first to secretly carry a bottle of brandy aboard a spaceship, while researchers were still uncertain as to whether to include alcohol into cosmonauts' menu.

To ban or not to ban alcohol in space - the issue has been debated since the era of space exploration began. The effects of long-term weightlessness are fatigue, muscle atrophy, a loss of bone bass, loss of appetite, a weakening of the immune system, insomnia and anxiety.

So, moderate doses of alcohol were proposed to help ease part of those symptoms. More than just a stimulator, alcohol is also a supplier of energy and microelements.

Yet, it has its minuses: an astronaut relaxed by alcohol might press the wrong button and trigger an emergency. So, ultimately, the fears prevailed resulting in both the USSR and the USA prohibiting alcohol in space.

The matter resurged in the 1970s when the first space stations were launched - Salyut-1 in 1971 and Skylab two years later.

There had to be something besides the unsavory space food to stimulate astronauts' appetite during long-term flights. Again, researchers suggested alcohol.

NASA set forth one condition, namely that it should be an American brand. And so, the Paul Masson California Rare Cream Sherry was chosen.

Sherry is a fortified wine that doesn't spoil easily, so researchers figured out that it would work best. The astronauts were rationed to four ounces of sherry every four days.

A special package was designed. It consisted of a flexible plastic pouch with a built-in drinking tube, which could be cut off. The package was test-flown in a reduced gravity aircraft, one of the so-called "vomit-comet" planes.

The odors released by the wine had an unplanned effect on the crew. Many grabbed for their barf bags. But when asked if they would like some sherry, half of the crew said "no".

In 1972, Skylab-4 commander, Gerry Carr, let it slip that there would be sherry on the astronauts' menu. A flurry of angry letters from the general public prompted NASA to abort its alcohol program. So, sherry never went to space.

What about Russian cosmonauts? Yes, there was an official alcohol ban, but they somehow contrived to breach it, said Igor Marinin, editor-in-chief of the News of Cosmonautics magazine.

"It is thought - and no doctor would deny it - that a small amount of alcohol keeps one in a good mood, relieves stress and helps one sleep better. Many cosmonauts believe it. Even in the 1970s, they managed to sneak alcohol aboard - a flat plastic flask was filled with brandy and hidden inside a spacesuit...

"Once, they performed research experiments with pure alcohol - studied the behavior of a liquid in weightlessness in the fuel tanks. After the experiment, they were obliged to dispose of the alcohol by dumping it overboard. They never did it...," he said.

"The ban was lifted only once. French astronaut Jean-Luc Chretien was allowed to take some Bordeaux wine with him when he travelled to the Mir space station. The rest of the crew very much appreciated the treat."

It turned out, however, that liquor vapors were bad for the equipment, Yuri Bubeyev, head of the psychology unit of Institute of Medico-Biological Problems, told the Voice of Russia.

"Alcohol vapors damage air revitalization systems and may cause potential emergencies fraught with a fire," he said.

Once, a fire did break out, only not because of alcohol. It happened aboard the Mir in 1997. Having put out the flames, the Russian-US crew de-stressed themselves with brandy.

Much earlier, in 1980, a Soyuz-T2 was to dock with the Salyut-6 station, but the guidance system went wrong, so the entire docking had to be carried out manually. That was terrible stress for the crew. They felt better after having some brandy sneaked into the Soyuz in a book-shaped titanium can.

When asked if the alcohol ban is still in force, cosmonauts smile, then say 'yes, it is'.

Source: Voice of Russia


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