Guest post – Patrick Bailey
Future lunar homesteaders would certainly produce alcoholic beverages using locally grown materials. Indeed, if they want to enjoy adult beverages, they would have to. The cost of importing spirits from Earth would be too steep.
NASA has already conducted a great deal of research in growing food plants in space, primarily onboard the International Space Station. Plants in a space habitat not only provide food, but also aesthetic appeal and an assist in recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. Lunar agriculture will be easier than on the ISS because the Moon has gravity. Lunar homesteaders will grow their own food in greenhouses, so they can also grow the raw materials for distilling alcohol.
Most people know what kind of plants make what kind of alcohol. Potatoes make vodka. Agaves make tequila. Sugar cane makes rum. Barley makes whiskey. Corn makes – well – moonshine. Future lunar homesteaders can grow the raw materials in the greenhouse and then go to work making alcohol out of them.
Wired recently ran an article about how distilling booze in space might work, though the piece was more geared toward making hooch in microgravity. The Moon offers the primary advantage in having gravity, albeit just one-sixth that of Earth. A common copper still would probably work pretty well.
A still works by combining plant mash with yeast to start the fermentation process. Then heat is applied to boil off the alcohol content, which is shunted into a separate container to condense into a liquid. Getting the process to work in one-sixth gravity may or may not be something of a science experiment. However, we can assume that our inventive moonshiners will be able to solve any problems that may arise.
Copper is favored for use in a still because it inhibits the production of ethyl carbamide, a toxic substance, during the distilling process. It breaks down the esters and sulphuric compounds produced during the fermentation process, removing them from the alcohol vapor. Copper improves the quality and aroma of the finished product. It is a good conductor of heat.
Unfortunately, copper may not be all that common on the moon. According to the Lunar Source Book, the highest concentration of copper known to exist on the moon was 60 parts per million found in the samples gathered at Hadley-Apennine by the crew of Apollo 15. One should be aware that the geological makeup of the moon has not been fully explored, so higher concentrations of copper could still exist elsewhere on or near the surface.
Failing the ability to make a still using local materials, future lunar moonshiners may have to import one from Earth. The future lunar homesteaders might sell the operation as a science experiment and may even be able to persuade an Earthside distillery to pick up the cost. The conversion of various plants grown in the greenhouse to spirits would constitute a lot of science.
Since future Moon homesteaders could make alcohol out of locally grown materials, another question arises. Should they?
A recent piece in Wired, quoting a report from the Office of Inspector General, suggests that alcohol abuse is a major problem at American bases in Antarctica, McMurdo Station, and the South Pole. The reasons for alcohol abuse among scientists and support personnel at the bottom of the world are not hard to understand. They are as isolated as anyone can be while living in one of the starkest landscapes on Earth. The work is hard and often dangerous. The use of social lubricant to decompress comes naturally.
Unfortunately, alcohol abuse comes with fistfights, indecent exposure, and arriving on shift under the influence. Distilling one’s own spirits is contrary to regulations but apparently is common. The Federal Marshals who provide security in Antarctica have their hands full. Read the full report from the OIG here.
The situation facing moon homesteaders is likely to be even more severe. The Moon is about 240,000 miles from Earth. The lunar surface makes Antarctica seem like the Garden of Eden by comparison.
It’s unlikely that access to alcohol can be denied to inhabitants of a lunar settlement. Such people are going to be self-reliant, intelligent, and endlessly innovative. Keeping a lid on alcohol abuse on the Moon will be daunting, to say the least, requiring equal parts discipline from a security apparatus and psychological counseling. Perhaps one day there will even be alcohol rehabs on the moon. Talk about a 12-step for mankind.
Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them.