In an early episode of the future-set television show The Expanse (which recently moved from SYFY to Amazon), a character describes his vineyard on Mars and his love of the wine it produces. A vineyard on Mars might soon be a reality, as the country of Georgia recently announced it wants to create grapes capable of growing on the red planet.
Named “IX Millennium” in reference to Georgia’s nine thousand years of wine-making, the project is complex and multifaceted. Later in 2019, vertical greenhouses will be erected in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. They will host giant pods of grapes, arugula, and strawberries. Gardeners will resist all but the most minimal level of care in order to mimic what the plants would endure on Mars.
Meanwhile, scientists need to research grape varieties able to survive the harsh environment, which includes drastic temperature swings and dust storms. They’ll take inspiration from a state-run “grape library,” which grows 450 varieties of grape native to Georgia, and 350 foreign ones. One of the native plants, the rkatsiteli, shows promise thanks to its high acidity. It’s used to make white wine, and according to many experts, Mars will most likely foster a white wine vintage. In general, those grape types are more resistant to viruses, so scientists believe they’ll fight back against radiation, too.
Rkatsiteli and other varieties will be tested in an artificial Martian environment by students at the Business Technology University. They’ll do their best to create Martian conditions by exposing soil and grapes to below-zero temperatures, high carbon monoxide levels, and thin atmospheric pressure.
Why wine? It’s believed that Georgia was the first nation to make the alcohol, based on a stained pot dating back to 6,000-8,000 B.C.E. According to the founder of Georgia’s Space Research Agency, bringing wine to Mars is logically the next step. How long will it take? 2022 is their goal year. Elon Musk hopes to launch the first crewed mission to Mars in 2024, so if all goes according to schedule, that first crew might be planting vines and sipping vino in the not-so-distant future.