Yakult in Space!

News & Views - March 22nd, 2014

Yakult Honsha Co, the maker of popular Japanese milk drink of the same name, will boldly go where no dairy product has gone before—into orbit.

In a partnership with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Yakult will send pots of the fermented milk drink to the International Space Station as part of a study on the effects of so-called probiotic foods on the health of astronauts.

Japanese astronauts will be asked to consume Yakult daily for a month at a time over a span of six years. The astronauts’ stool, saliva and blood samples will be monitored to determine the effects of the probiotic drink, which contains live Lactobacillus caseri, Shirota strain. The special bacteria aids human digestive and immune systems.

Astronauts consume mostly bland, specially processed “space food,” which could take a toll on their health especially if they’re on a months-long mission.

Aside from possibly improving the health of astronauts, the research could also hold benefits for Earth-bound people, such as the elderly, the Tokyo-based company said.

“Space is a model for accelerated aging, so if we can find preventive measures in space, these could be applied on the ground, too,” said Hiroshi Ohshima, manager of the space biomedical research office at JAXA.

Astronauts are often isolated before space missions in an effort to prevent contamination with harmful viruses or bacteria. But the company said the special bacteria used in Yakult is a friendly alien.

“It is proven to be safe for humans, and it makes food tastier, too,” said Takashige Negishi, chief operating officer of Yakult Honsha.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, who is leading a six-man crew aboard the ISS, is probably happy to hear about the news.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: European Space Agency/Flickr