The Discovery mission was the first French-American collaboration, the 18th flight of NASA’s space ferry programme and the fifth of the space ferry Discovery. On board was Sultan bin Salman al Saud of Saudi Arabia, a 28-year-ancient prince and trained pilot, the first member of a royal family to
Alongside the prince, sat in seat S6 on the middeck, was Patrick Baudry, a 29-year ancient Frenchman. Both were flying as a payload specialists, a term that refers to a technical expert, usually a scientist, on board to check that the consequence of any load meets safety requirements. On this particular mission the load built-in three communication satellites, as well as a carrier module that was to be launched from the ferry to carry out various astronomy experiments, and a tracking device for America’s Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars as it was popularly known.
Besides its scientific and commercial objectives (one of the satellites was owned by AT&T), this particular Discovery mission was, by all accounts, an unusually gourmet flight. Astronauts would typically eat food that they had selected previous to departure from NASA’s space ferry menu, to be packed and colour-coded with each person’s assigned colour. The French influence was ringing out loud and
‘This was not just about knowledge,’ Jean-Michel Cazes tells me as meet up in Bages village this week to talk about the altogether improbable events of 30 years ago. ‘It was about symbolism. He wanted to take items that were reflective of the glory of France.’
Baudry himself says that he knew the American astronauts were discussing taking Coca-Cola up into space, so he wanted to make a stand for France’s own national drink; wine.
‘It nearly didn’t happen,’ says Cazes. ‘But not because of NASA. It was the French government who initially disapproved. They wanted to concentrate on showing France’s technological and engineering prowess instead of wine and perfume’.
The thought of Lynch Bages building it to the stratosphere started in November
‘Are you interested in sending your wine to the moon?’
Courrèges told him that he knew of an astronaut called Patrick Baudry, who had been at school in Bordeaux and who wanted to take a local wine up into space with him. Perhaps doubting the likelihood of it really happening, the official Bordeaux wine associations had not been too helpful, but a journalist had recommended speaking to Jean-Michel Cazes. He could only just have picked a more appropriate person. Cazes didn’t just agree to the thought, he ran with it.
‘Once we had met up in Pauillac, things started moving quickly, at least until the French government place up obstacles. I started thought about alternative ways to get Lynch Bages on the ferry. Walkman cassette players were allowed, so I experimented with small plastic pouches that would fit
Eventually Baudry called and said NASA had given the green set alight to bring a half bottle of wine, along with a vine leaf (‘I looked all over Pauillac but it was November and the only vine I could find subdue with leaves on belonged to Mouton Rothschild’), and ten small vials of the 1983 vintage, subdue in barrel at the time, to be given as souvenirs to the crew. The wine had to wait unopened, and Cazes had to sign a declaration assuring that he would make no commercial gain or advertising surrounding Lynch Bages’ inclusion (‘no Cuvée de l’Espace’).
He stuck to the covenant, which is why so small has been written about this extraordinary episode. After an initial flight scheduled for February was cancelled, lift off for a new mission was set for June 17, the first day of the Vinexpo wine honest back in Bordeaux (rather neatly right for the 30th anniversary also).
Cazes, in Florida at Cap Canaveral with his wife and
You can’t of course keep such a excellent tale down, and the right identity of the wine was an open secret in Bordeaux. The full team of Discovery astronauts made a trip to Pauillac in the months that followed the mission, landing in a fleet of helicopters at the local sports stadium and being distinguished with a ceremony and dinner. And four years before long, when Lynch Bages hosted the traditional Fête de la Fleur evening for the closing day of another Vinexpo honest, Cazes organised a stunning theatrical homage to the full episode. But outside of Bordeaux, very few people ever talked about it.
Mission 51-G was considered one of the most successful in the full space programme. ‘It was a fantastic flight,’ said ferry director Jesse
By the time they returned, the astronauts – and with them the bottle of Lynch Bages – had circled the earth 111 times, on a 2.9 million mile journey. Once was safely back on earth, Baudry returned the bottle – signed by this point – to its owner.
We headed into the private cellars at the château to see it a few days ago. Sat below a glass show case was a photo of Baudry, a few plastic vials of the 1983, and the most well-travelled bottle of Bordeaux in existence.
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