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Sci-Tech

Is kombucha tough enough to survive the extremes of space?

You can find it at your local natural grocery store, but kombucha can also be found bolted to the outside of the International Space Station.

Kombucha biofilm is created by microorganisms. ESA-J. Harrod CC BY SA IGO 3.0

It comes with fruit flavors. It comes plain. Sometimes it comes with chia seeds mixed in. Kombucha is a hip fermented tea drink made with a living colony of yeast and bacteria. Not everyone likes the flavor, but it's a fascinating beverage that has turned into a mainstream libation. Kombucha even caught the attention of European Space Agency scientists who decided to dangle it out into space.

Samples of the bacteria and yeast used to make kombucha are currently sitting outside the International Space Station undergoing a torture test of exposure to solar radiation, extreme temperatures and a lack of oxygen. The test is set to last 18 months.

Scientists have to wait until 2016 to find out if the kombucha makes it, but chances are good it will join other organisms like lichen and water bears as space survivors. The ESA reports, "Tests on Earth have shown that these multicellular biofilms are tough and will most probably survive an unprotected trip through space."

The kombucha samples are contained in the Expose-R2 facility, a container mounted to the outside of the space station. It's capable of holding hundreds of samples in order to subject them to the rigors of space.

The ESA notes that microbrial cellulose, a filmy material kombucha develops to protect itself in extreme conditions, is a promising material for the space industry. Microbial cellulose has already been used to create experimental fashions. It would be quite an upgrade if kombucha some day goes from quenching thirst on Earth to flying in components on spacecraft across the solar system.

Expose-R2
The Expose-R2 unit on the outside of the space station. Roscosmos