French wine bottles, grapevines return to Earth after a year in space

12 bottles of French Bordeaux wine were launched into space in 2019

A dozen bottles of French wine that have been in space for a year are headed back down to Earth. 

On Tuesday, SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon undocked from the International Space Station, set to splash down off the coast of Florida Wednesday night. 

Among the thousands of pounds of gear and research onboard the spacecraft were 12 bottles of French Bordeaux wine and hundreds of snippets of grapevines that had spent a year orbiting the Earth for an experiment run by Luxembourg startup Space Cargo Unlimited.

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Each bottle of wine was carefully packed inside a steel cylinder to prevent breakage and remained corked for the entire year in orbit. 

This photo provided by NASA shows SpaceX's Dragon undocking from International Space Station on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (NASA via AP)

This photo provided by NASA shows SpaceX's Dragon undocking from International Space Station on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. (NASA via AP)

The bottles were launched into space and brought to the International Space Station in November 2019 aboard a Northrop Grumman supply ship. The 320 Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vine snippets arrived at the space station later, in March 2020, aboard a SpaceX cargo spacecraft.

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Though the bottles are landing on Earth Wednesday night, they won’t be opened until the end of February, when Space Cargo Unlimited will host a wine tasting with one or two bottles in Bordeaux by some of France’s top connoisseurs and experts. 

Researchers from Space Cargo Unlimited prepare bottles of French red wine to be flown from Wallops Island, Va., to the International Space Station on Nov. 2, 2019. (Space Cargo Unlimited via AP)

Researchers from Space Cargo Unlimited prepare bottles of French red wine to be flown from Wallops Island, Va., to the International Space Station on Nov. 2, 2019. (Space Cargo Unlimited via AP)

After the wine tasting, researchers will conduct chemical testing in the following months to see how space altered the sedimentation and bubbles.

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Though the tasting will be fun, Space Cargo Unlimited CEO Nicolas Gaume told The Associated Press that agricultural science is the main point of the experiment. 

"Our goal is to tackle the solution of how we’re going to have an agriculture tomorrow that is both organic and healthy and able to feed humanity, and we think space has the key," Gaume said from Bordeaux.

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Gaume went on to say that climate change will force agricultural products -- like grapes -- to adapt to harsher conditions. Through a series of space experiments, Space Cargo Unlimited hopes to take what’s learned by stressing the plants in weightlessness and turn that into more robust and resilient plants on Earth.

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Gaume said private investors helped fund the experiments, but he declined to provide the project cost.

SpaceX is the only shipper capable of returning space station experiments and other items intact. The other cargo capsules are filled with trash and burn up when reentering Earth's atmosphere.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.