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Coke Vs. Pepsi in Orbit: Cola Wars Take on New Dimension

May 18, 1996

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ It’s Coke vs. Pepsi in orbit.

The cola wars take on a new dimension this weekend with Sunday morning’s planned launch of space shuttle Endeavour with a soda dispenser.

Endeavour is loaded with 50 4-ounce servings of Coca-Cola products for the drinking pleasure of six astronauts assigned to the science mission. For the record, NASA considers it a study of two-phase (liquid and gas) systems.

Over at the Russian space station Mir, Pepsi Cola is hawking its own beverages and, what’s more, is about to film the first commercial in space with the help of two spacewalking cosmonauts.

It’s shaping up to be quite a fight.

``For years, the cola wars have been raging on every corner of this planet between Pepsi and Coke,″ Pepsi spokeswoman Geri Schachner said. ``And after an 11-year hiatus, we’re going to be renewing the cola wars in space.″

The space cola wars began in 1985 when NASA flew Pepsi and Coke aboard Challenger in what was described as an engineering evaluation of space beverage cans. As far as the astronauts were concerned, it was a dud. For one thing, the soda was warm.

Coca-Cola flew its canned product in space again in 1991 aboard the Russian station and, in 1995, sent a soda dispenser into orbit on shuttle Discovery. Aside from too much foam, the chilled, dispensed drinks got generally good reviews.

This time, Coca-Cola is flying a new dispenser designed to keep the soda even colder and produce less foam. The Endeavour astronauts will have their choice of Coke, Diet Coke and a non-carbonated orange Powerade. The beverages will be dispensed in small plastic bottles for use with straws.

Both the Coke and Diet Coke will have less carbonation than the earthly variety. Astronauts evidently have trouble burping in space and if there’s too much carbonation, well, you get the picture.

Endeavour astronaut Daniel Bursch would just as soon have a pizza or a ``nice, greasy hamburger″ in orbit.

``I don’t think I’ve actually really craved a soda″ in space, he said.

This is not _ repeat not _ a publicity stunt, Coca-Cola officials say. The company, in fact, cannot use any shuttle soda-drinking scenes in advertising since that’s against NASA policy.

``It’s research and it also addresses a market. It’s not a high-volume market, but it’s a market,″ said Michael Myers, a Coca-Cola engineer in charge of the project. ``Our corporate goal is to refresh people with non-alcoholic beverages wherever people are, and as space becomes more of an issue with space station and projects beyond that, we want to be the soft drink that’s there.″

Coca-Cola spent $1.5 million developing the dispensers, which the company hopes to fly one day on the planned international space station. NASA contributed another few million dollars toward the experiment.

Pepsi Cola officials refuse to say how much the company is paying the financially ailing Russian Space Agency to advertise on Mir.

Cosmonauts Yuri Onufrienko and Yuri Usachev posed for TV cameras last month in front of a sign reading, ``Even in space ... Pepsi is changing the script.″

Next up: the commercial.

The cosmonauts are scheduled to perform a spacewalk Monday night; they’re expected to film the commercial or at least part of it outside Mir.

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