(Image Credit NASA)

You've probably heard of kombucha by now. Marketed as a healthy (and even hippie) drink, kombucha is made using sweetened tea and a "scoby" (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The scoby sits right on top of the tea throughout the fermenting process. It might not look appetizing, it might look like the tea has gone bad, but you can't make kombucha without the scoby.

You can purchase kombucha at your local grocery store or even make it yourself. There is somewhere else, though, that you can get this fizzy tea: outer space.

Kombucha topped with scoby. (Source)

Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) are taking kombucha to new heights on the International Space Station. Kombucha contains bacteria and yeasts that help give the tea it's slightly fermented flavor. The ESA group have placed the same types of bacteria and yeast on the outside of the orbiting laboratory.

Will it Survive?

Now, we wait and see how well they fare in space. In the past, scientists have been "surprised" by the number of organisms that can live without protection in outer space. The list of survivors includes water bears and lichen.

Water bears, for example, can survive 1,000 times more radiation than a human being, making them excellent candidates for these kinds of studies.

Here's how the scientists are approaching this experiment. They're trying to figure out if communities of microorganisms that stick together  on a surface (scoby, for example) can survive in space with zero protection.

Outside of earth's atmosphere, our kombucha ingredients will encounter unfiltered sunlight, cosmic radiation, a lack of air pressure, and extreme temperature. They were chosen because, based on initial tests on earth, the cultures are pretty reliant against harsh conditions. Interestingly, "when mixed with simulated moon dust, the cellulose sucks up minerals and protects the culture even better."

The same type of experiments have been conducted on earth with amino acids, the buildings blocks for proteins. They also exist better in space-like conditions when they're mixed with meteorite dust. It made sense, then, when scientists found amino acids in meteorites that had crash-landed on our planet. They imagine that amino acids are often embedded in comets and asteroids.

Kombucha's Impact:

This is a big deal. If bacteria, yeast, water bears, amino acids, and more are able to survive in such seemingly dangerous situations, similar life could already exist in the vacuum of space. We just have to continue testing how they fare in the void first, to better understand them.

Even if the cultures from the kombucha break down in space, scientists would see the experiment as a win. ESA scientists explain that, when the chemicals break down, the leftover pieces could mix together and create a new compound, giving them a better idea of "the kind of organic chemistry that can take place in space."

Kombucha and the International Space Station will be partners for 18 months as they orbit earth together. In 2016, the cultures will be sent back to earth for study. Perhaps, alien life will hear about our delicious offerings, now that they're closer in proximity, and even pay a visit.


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