Issue 4, 2018. August-September

   

GEORGIAN WINES ON MARS? A NEW INITIATIVE TO GROW GRAPES IN SPACE

A working group has been created to start researching how to cultivate grapes and produce wine in space.

It seems natural that the idea to grow grapes on Mars would originate in Georgia.

Widely accepted as the cradle of wine, Georgians have been fermenting grapes in this region for over 8,000 years.

Now, a group of Georgian innovators and supporting organizations have launched a program to develop the first grapes that can be cultivated in outer space.

The latest developments in commercializing space - the plans for a manned expedition to Mars, businesses like Tesla and SpaceX investing in space exploration programs - inspired Nikoloz Doborjginidze and other members of the working group to think about what Georgia could do to get involved.

"When we were thinking about the wine in general and Georgia and technology, obviously being a Georgian and being involved in technology . . . We were thinking 'Well our ancestors did a great job, but what can we add to this whole thing?,'" Doborjginidze, Microsoft Country Manager of Georgia and a member of the working group, told Investor.ge.

"We thought that Georgia could be positioned quite well in a story where we have a history, but we should go forward, placing Georgia on the map of innovation as well," he said.

The working group includes Doborjginidze, who is involved in a personal capacity; the National Museum of Georgia; the Business and Technical University; Cosmic Farms; and the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science.

More than Grapes

"It might be a little bit crazy to announce that Georgia wants to bring grapes into space but - it's a long shot but we said we have to start at some point," he said.

There is a precedent: NASA is already working on cultivating potatoes for Mars in Chile, Doborjginidze noted.

"Our aim is to have the idea and then, as a working group, consolidate all these resources that we have and start to build the scientific research around this," he said.

"When you think about Georgia, you won't think only of the guys whose ancestors 8,000 years ago created something, but the also the guys who are struggling and looking forward, maybe 50 or 60 years ahead, and they want to try to do something important and something ... We think that this project will cultivate other side effects," he said.

The side effects - all the innovations and discoveries that Georgia will have as the project moves closer to its goal of cultivating grapes in space - could help the country find its niche in this new age of technology.

"We are researching the wine and the grapes to be cultivated for the cosmos, but first you need to cultivate them in a closed environment . . . Maybe in twenty years it will be so hot that grapes will not be able to grow outside, so why not work on the technology where you can harvest grapes in a closed environment?," Doborjginidze said.

Vertical Farming

Encouraging innovation and technology at home is an important part of the project, he noted.

"Georgia is lacking in terms of innovation index, and one of the problems is that we don't have much in terms of research going on.

"So, we need innovation, we need to do something, why not do something that is culturally and historically yours, and that looks beyond tomorrow and that goes further," he said.

"We live in the fourth industrial revolution, where the pace of innovation is so fast that it is really hard to catch the trends . . . Maybe we can find a niche where, again, it is culturally ours and comes naturally to us . . . Maybe we can be the best cosmic farmers."

At this point, the group is looking for grants, with a long-term goal of attracting international investment.

One member of the group, Cosmic Farms, is the in-house farm for the Stamba Hotel in Tbilisi, and which will operate the lab for the project, Doborjginidze said, adding that they are already experimenting with vertical farming.

"The first immediate step is to get the resources available. Right now, we are investing our own human resources, what we have, how we can organize things, but this is not going to be enough. We need grants, we need real scientists to work on these projects," he said.

"We are setting a high bar aiming for grapes, but you can develop grapes you need to also raise so many things... Just to get to that point. But we will have a mission, and that is the most important."