Space and booze, an anecdotal history


NEW ORLEANS—”Half a century ago, this was an essential part of spaceman culture,” said Jeffrey Kluger, senior writer at Time and author of the book that inspired Apollo 13. Presenting at the world’s best alcohol event, Kluger wasn’t referring to old astronaut traditions like military experience or crew cuts. “Test pilots were male, under 6-feet tall, and had to be a tough and tireless drinker.”

Tales of the Cocktail 2016 continued the conference’s trend of sneaking science into a series of bar industry seminars. Food scientists from Bacardi discussed internal testing on carbonation in liquor, and alcohol alchemist Camper English unveiled his tireless research on the compounds and combinations that can be lethal (or at least really, really bad) when unleashed in our cocktails. But this year’s schedule also featured what seemed like a peculiarity—a panel titled “Cosmic Cocktails: The Final Frontier” that outlined the informal history of NASA and drinking.

According to Kluger, the intertwining of highballs and high altitudes was inescapable—a natural evolution of the downtime imbibing of previous military generations. For many of the US’ early space pioneers, this part of training took place outside Southern California’s Edwards Air Force Base at a vast and communal pub in the Mojave Desert called the Happy Bottom Riding Club (fittingly considering its clientele, the bar was created by Pancho Barnes, a pioneering female pilot who had bested Amelia Earhart’s air speed record at age 29).

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