Running in parellel with the microgravity study, which includes two groups of samples that will be stored on the ISS for 13 months and over 2 years, will be a control group stored on Earth. When returned to Earth, all of the samples will be studied to check for chemical differences in the groups. All groups will be identical, except for the variable of gravity.
Gourmet Astronauts: Favorite Space Food
A huge variety of experiments are carried out on the space station, including research into the development of novel drugs and space-based cultivation of plants, primarily because the unique environment possesses a microgravity environment that cannot be replicated on Earth. And you can't forget the series of experiments into space beer (including research into the dreaded "wet burp" phenomenon!)
Interestingly, scientists already know that the microgravity environment in space can affect the growth of plants. For example, through experiments on cucumbers on the ISS, scientists found that plant roots grow toward water, whereas, on Earth, plant roots were dominated by the direction of gravity. Scientists can then find which genes are responsible for this and perhaps make crops on Earth more drought-resistent. Other experiments have shown that the microgravity environment can extend the period that leaves remain green on a species of plant. Some genes are suppressed while others are enhanced by microgravity, providing a kind of anti-aging property in the plant.
In the field of medical science, microgravity tests on drugs used to treat diabetes have shown some promise to potentially combat certain types of cancer. Also, the growth of protein crystals in space could lead to novel pharmaceuticals - on Earth, the growth of these crystals are limited by gravity, whereas in space, these crystals can grow much larger.
Space Beer Brewed With Lunar Dust? I'll Have a Pint!
These discoveries are profound for agricultural and medical practices on Earth as well as in space. But this also goes for industrial methods, energy production, animal science and a myriad of other as-yet to be appreciated applications.
Although experiments into the mellowing of whiskey may seem a little playful in comparison to these potentially life-saving applications, chemical reactions behind mellowing are a huge unknown and new discoveries as to gravity's contribution to this process could lead to invaluable spin-off technologies.
But if not, at least we will have gained an insight to why whiskey tastes smoother with age and whether gravity has anything to do with it. I'll drink to that.