Move over Jetsons, Elon Musk is building a future that we could have only dreamed of. Early January, SpaceX announced that the next planned flight will bring cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) – cargo in the form of hemp, coffee and – you guessed it: cannabis plants.
This March, SpaceX will be partnering with Front Range Biosciences, SpaceCells USA and BioServe Space Technologies to take cannabis plants into space to see what, if any, impact space travel and the space environment will have on the plant.
SpaceX Is Taking Cannabis Even Higher
On this 20th mission to the ISS, the goal is to further scientific research and according to Newsweek, there will be about 480 handpicked cannabis strains and varieties that are welcomed aboard the SpaceX. The chief attribute of these hand-selected cannabis strains is that they all contain a low level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the naturally occurring psychoactive compound found in cannabis that produces our favourite “high” feelings.
Once on board the ISS, these cannabis strains will be kept in a specially designed space incubator that will keep temperatures even and ideal for the growth of the plants. These plants will be lodged on the ISS for only 30 days and then brought back to earth for further examination by scientists from various institutions. Once back on terra firma, these plants will be studied for possible mutations or any vital DNA changes, all of which can be impacted by the change in gravity and the amount of radiation in space that doesn’t exist on earth.
“This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures,” Dr. Jonathan Vaught, Co-Founder & CEO of partner research company Front Range Biosciences, said in a statement. “There is a science to support the theory that plants in space experience mutations. This is an opportunity to see whether those mutations hold up once brought back to earth and if there are new commercial applications.”
While it may seem a little strange to us, plants do indeed respond strangely to low levels of gravity. While researchers have yet to figure out why, missions such as these bring us closer to learning how humans can grow crops in a low-gravity environment is vital to our long-term ability to live in space.
Many would question the necessity of running experiments such as these, especially when there is a large price tag associated with the mission, but at a time when climate change is ravaging our ecosystem, scientific experiments such as these can go far when looking to produce cannabis plants that are resistant to extreme weather changes.
One of the partnering companies, SpaceCells, very own chief executive officer Peter McCullagh stated that “these are big ideas we’re pursuing and there’s a massive opportunity to bring to market new plants that can better adapt to drought and cold conditions. We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change.”
While SpaceX is mainly just providing the means to get the plant cultures to space, we believe that they, along with their scientific partners, are helping expand our agricultural knowledge and bringing new learnings to the field of cannabis and hemp. The researchers have noted that if this initial trial goes well, there is an opportunity for many more plant-based trials onboard SpaceX and the ISS to produce healthier and more climate change-resistant plant strains to bring back to earth.
We’re excited to see what comes next, and how we can learn from these experiments.