The Real Reason Astronauts Are Not Allowed To Drink Alcohol

It's no surprise that astronauts have to follow a set of very specific rules. For their safety and the success of the mission, they are not allowed to engage in a whole host of seemingly basic tasks, like taking a shower or sleeping in a comfortable bed, per Reader's Digest. They are also not permitted to drink any alcohol whatsoever while in space. While this may seem like a no-brainer — being drunk during a space mission is a bad idea, for obvious reasons — the fear of over-intoxication is not the main reason why astronauts are not allowed to imbibe.

Officially, NASA astronauts are not allowed to bring alcohol aboard the ship because of the threat of something called off-gassing. As NASA describes it, off-gassing is a dangerous occurrence that happens when an object gives off smells or gases that can upset the delicate atmospheric balance inside the space shuttle. Because there is no way to bring in fresh air while in space, trapped gases can become dangerous. Therefore, a surprising number of items, including DVDs, stuffed animals, batteries, and any products containing alcohol — even non-consumables, like perfumes and mouthwash — are not permitted onboard the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station.

Alcohol wasn't always included on the forbidden list, however. Until around the mid-1970s, alcohol was regularly brought along space missions, by United States astronauts and those of other countries.

Astronauts could consume alcohol in space in the 1970s

Russian cosmonauts were encouraged to bring cognac on board the ship for their health. "During prolonged space missions, especially at the beginning of the Space Age, we had alcoholic drinks in the cosmonauts' rations. This was cognac, which the doctors recommended for use. We used it to stimulate our immune system and on the whole to keep our organisms in tone," former Russian cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin told the Interfax news agency in 2010, via NBC News.

And it wasn't just the Russians who encouraged drinking on long missions. In the 1970s, American NASA food scientist Dr. Charles Bourland deemed sherry to be a safe libation for astronauts to enjoy in space, reports Business Insider. The real reason NASA eventually banned drinking in space was actually due to general public opinion. The American public disapproved of the practice of astronauts drinking alcohol, with many people complaining that it sullied the expected sanctity of the astronauts' image. "The problem is that you have got some extremists around and we (astronauts) kind of represent a form of purity. As soon as you taint that purity with alcohol, they really get upset," astronaut Edward G. Gibson said in a 1972 interview, via Business Insider.

So, while being intoxicated in space certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster, it was public relations, not astronaut safety, that was the true driver behind the rule change. These days, NASA astronauts are not permitted even a drop of alcohol while in orbit.