It sounds like the ultimate way for an astronaut to kick back after a space walk, but whiskey in space is weird. If you make it in space, it tastes funny; and if you ship it from Earth, astronauts have to sip it through straws from little sacks, like Capri Sun. Because while gravity might be a harsh mistress, at least it’s not going to toss a tumbler full of Laguvulin in your face like microgravity will.
Ballantine, producer of blended Scotch whiskeys, knows that drinking whiskey in space is going to be an increasing humanitarian concern. So they commissioned the Open Space Agency’s James Parr to design a whiskey glass that allows you to sip a fine single malt in style just like you would on Earth, even when gravity is a distant memory. The finished design is a 3-D printed, magnetically-weighted sippie cup orb that looks something like the ice sphere you might drink in your scotch.
Before we go into the details of the design, some background: a fundamental part of enjoying whiskey comes from swirling it around in the glass, allowing the heat of your palm to slightly warm the precious 80-proof amber inside, which in turn releases its taste-enhancing aroma. All of this is super difficult to manage in space, for one obvious reason: liquids blob up and float around when you don’t have gravity.
“The way that liquids behave and are controlled in space is one of the fundamental challenges of space exploration,” writes Parr on Medium. “It’s one of the fundamental things on which rocket scientists have worked so hard. As soon as you get out of Earth’s gravity, liquids don’t behave as liquids should. So whether you are designing a rocket with its pumps and the way fuels move inside its tanks or a space glass, it’s all focused around how we can best control liquids in microgravity to make them do what we need them to do.”
In Parr’s design, the “glass” is an enclosed orb made of medical-grade PLA plastic. Using a customized whiskey bottle nozzle, you pour some liquid into the glass, along with an optional ice cube. A spiral of capillaries flow around the inside of the glass, drawing liquid up to the rim of the glass through surface tension, just by twirling the glass. You can even put the space glass down like a regular tumbler, thanks to a magnet in the base which allows it to stick to metal surfaces.
It’s an incredible design, as beautiful as it is space age. Just don’t try to drink from Ballantine’s space glass on Earth: although a baby could lift it in space, on Earth, the 22-pound space glass would give you quite the workout to drink from. And Heinlein help you if you dropped it on your big toe.