Elon Musk's aerospace company, Space X has collaborated with a Colorado research lab to send cannabis and coffee up to the International Space Station in March. The spacecraft manufacturing company will be sending for a scientific experiment to test the plants in a zero-gravity environment. An agricultural biotech company, Front Range Biosciences that grows genetically consistent hemp and coffee varieties have teamed up with the University of Colorado and a tech start-up called Space Cells for the project.
About 480 plant cell cultures will be sent into space aboard the SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight which is set for March 2020. They will be then shifted to the space station where they will be stored in a special incubator with regulated temperature for around 30 days.
A group of astronomers and crew stationed on the ground will keep a vigil on the cells before they are brought back to earth a month later. After the return of the cells, Front Range Biosciences will further study the samples to check how microgravity and space radiation exposure may have changed the plants' gene expression. Co-Founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences, Dr Jonathan Vaught said that this will be the first time that someone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures. He added that plants in space experience mutations. He further added that it is an opportunity to check whether those mutations remain once brought back to earth.
VP of research and development at the Front Range, Louis Stodieck said that they are excited to study more about hemp and coffee gene expression in microgravity and how it will inform their breeding programs. Director of BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Louis Stodieck said that in the near future they are planning for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their grow-cycle so that they can determine which metabolic pathways are turned on and turned off.