In 1959, the U.S. and the Soviet Union took turns showing off their culture and innovation to each other. The Soviets came to New York City, and the Americans to Moscow, where they put on display their best products and, by extension, their distinct ways of life. At the American exhibit, the chairman of Pepsi asked then–Vice President Richard Nixon to get the Soviet premier to have a sip.
He was eager to break into the Soviet market before a rival, Coca-Cola, did. The resulting moment—Nikita Khrushchev with a cup of Pepsi in his hand—was captured on camera and spread widely. “This was the best advertisement that a company could possibly want in the Soviet Union at that time,” writes Ksenia Zubacheva in Russia Beyond.
By the 1970s, Pepsi was funneling syrup into the Soviet Union to be diluted and bottled in newly built factories. The arrangement involved a rather unusual payment scheme. Zubacheva explains:
Soviet rubles could not be internationally exchanged because of Kremlin currency controls, which made it illegal not only to trade them internationally but also to take the currency abroad. Therefore, a barter deal was made whereby Pepsi concentrate was swapped for Stolichnaya vodka and the right for its distribution in the U.S.—liter per liter.
Pepsi has invested in operations in Russia since.
The corporation’s thirst for advertising in space has persisted, too, in Russia and beyond. In February, Pepsi shared a clip of a spacesuited figure, complete with the iconic shiny gold visor on the helmet, stretching against a pole. “Gotta stay loose,” a caption said.
Soda makers are known for advertising their beverage as something you can have any place you like—“anywhere in the world / no matter where you are,” according to the song Coca-Cola hired Mark Ronson and Katy B to produce in 2012. In a boat in the ocean, near a menacing shark? Obviously. In the Arctic, with a bunch of polar bears? Of course. In the midst of a tense standoff between Black Lives Matter protesters and police officers? Why not. By these measures, outer space fits the bill.
There is one catch: Soda sucks in space. Without the reliable tug of Earth’s gravity, gas bubbles don’t rise to the top and escape, crackling as they go. Astronauts end up consuming more gas than they would back home, which means they’ll need to burp more. When we drink and eat on Earth, gravity pulls the liquids and solids down to become digested, while gases float back up and flee our bodies as burps. In microgravity environments, like on the International Space Station and the now-retired Space Shuttles, everything floats together like, as Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield put it so colorfully, “chunky bubbles.” Burping doesn’t occur naturally. If it did, you’d “throw up into your mouth.”
Astronauts who have had Pepsi and Coke in space weren’t wowed. “Results were mixed, and NASA did not add either company’s product to the Shuttle food pantry,” the National Air and Space Museum reports about the 1985 test. The Coke can from 1996 “sputtered, leaked and failed to fill their zero-gravity drinking bags,” according to the Chicago Tribune.