Space yogurtFinal preparations are being made for the launch of a project to develop space yogurt. The plan is a follow-up to the Tosa Space Sake (Tosa Uchu-shu) project, in which a number of Kochi prefecture sake brewers organized a 10-day space journey for a batch of yeast that was later used to produce sake (due to go on sale in Japan on April 1). Himawari Dairy, a Kochi-area dairy manufacturer, has reserved a seat aboard a Soyuz rocket for a payload of lactic acid bacteria that they hope to use to produce the world's first space yogurt after it returns to Earth. "We are deeply interested in seeing how the bacteria will change in space," says Himawari Dairy President Bunjiro Yoshizawa. "We hope it will undergo some interesting changes."

The space yogurt project is the result of cooperation between the key players in the space sake project -- a group of Kochi prefecture business leaders promoting the use of space travel to stimulate the local industry, along with the Japan Manned Space Systems Corporation (JAMSS), which handles the logistical affairs. After tasting some success with the promotion of the space sake project, the groups decided to turn their attention to developing space yogurt.

The ingredients to hitch a ride on the Soyuz include Himawari Dairy's unique lactic acid bacteria cultured from pickles preserved in sake lees (sediment that occurs during sake brewing) and lactic acid bacteria used in commercially available yogurt. Live bacteria cultures and dormant freeze-dried bacteria will be on board. The payload also includes a sample of chlorella (green algae) for research purposes, which was provided by the Kochi University School of Agriculture.

On March 22, the ingredients were loaded into special containers in Kochi City and shipped to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. After spending about 10 days aboard the Soyuz, which is scheduled to launch March 31, the bacteria will be returned to Himawari Dairy, who will study the mutations and safety of the bacteria before beginning work on yogurt production. They hope to have the world’s first space yogurt on shelves sometime this autumn.

Cosmic radiation is expected to have an effect on the bacteria. "Lactic acid bacteria is delicate, so we are looking forward to seeing what happens," says Yoshizawa. "It will be nice if space travel improves the yogurt's flavor and boosts its immunity-enhancing properties."

[Sources: Kochi News, Mainichi Shimbun]