Colorado Researchers Sending Hemp and Coffee to Space in 2020

Cannabis plant in corner of photo of Earth from space

Front Range Biosciences is a Colorado-based biotech company, striving to partner cutting-edge scientific research and development with the growth of in-demand crops like hemp and coffee. The company recently announced their plans to partner with Space Cells – a nearby tech startup – and the University of Colorado Boulder for an exciting new project. The three organizations will collaboratively launch more than 480 plant cell cultures into outer space. Using an incubator designed to maintain optimal growth conditions, these cultures will be loaded onto a SpaceX cargo flight, scheduled to launch in March of 2020. This mission will resupply essentials for astronauts presently docked at the International Space Station.

As head shop lovers like myself must know, Cannabis sativa is not yet legal on the Federal level in the United States. However, hemp was approved for legal growth and use last year with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. Hemp is distinct from other varieties of cannabis as it can’t intoxicate its users, due to the negligible levels of THC in its makeup. Hemp’s legality partly hinged on its diverse range of uses as a material, and its impressive ability to be grown with less difficulty and greater yields than other popular crops like cotton.

Hemp also contains high volumes of cannabidiol, or CBD, a cannabis-derived substance on the rise with dozens of oft-reported health benefits, which researchers are working to corroborate with increasing determination.

Hemp, in and of itself, represents a new frontier in the realm of sustainable energy. Therefore, bringing the crop to the final frontier is the logical next step.

One Small Step For Man…

With their groundbreaking choice to bring hemp and coffee beyond Earth’s atmosphere, these three organizations are making history. SpaceX CEO and co-founder Jonathan Vaught elaborated on the upcoming endeavor in a recent statement to the press. “This is the first time anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures,” Vaught explained. “There is 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.”

After docking at the International Space Station, the hemp and coffee cells will remain in space for a month before catching a return flight back to planet Earth. Front Range Biosciences will then study the DNA. In their examination, they’ll determine the impact of microgravity and radiation on both substances. According to Reggie Gaudino, Front Range Biosciences’ vice president of research and development, their findings will be used to inform decisions for future breeding and growth programs. “We are excited to learn more about both hemp and coffee gene expression,” says Gaudino.

While this specific mission is unique, others have preceded their attempt to send cannabis flying as high as possible. In 2013, High Times and Seed Hub jointly packed 95 cannabis seeds, a small marijuana plant and a joint into a weather balloon. They then sent all three nearly 20 miles into the air.

Similarly, Sent to Space partnered with a dispensary named Herban Planet to pack a pound of a thin-mint flavored strain into a weather balloon, and subsequently send both 131,000 feet above the Earth. Another Kentucky-based organization partnered with SpaceX to send hemp seeds into space and grow them when they returned. The results of their mission haven’t yet been revealed.

While official research of this type has been lacking in prior years, former NASA botanist Dale Chamberlain reminded us that history doesn’t always make the formal written record. Chamberlain helped to plant grow boxes for zero gravity. Chamberlain suggested in a former interview that cannabis seeds miiiight have made their way to the International Space Station before.

Milky Way, No Sugar

Ultimately, this upcoming venture could lead to the growth of coffee and cannabis in space. I can barely fathom the celestial body-high of weed from outer-space, though I imagine it’d be out of this world. While the respective prospects of otherworldly coffee and cannabis are striking (especially to our fellow smoke shop aficionados), this mission has the potential to benefit the world in (other) crucial and significant ways.

Increased understanding of the molecular changes caused by extreme atmospheric changes will help researchers develop crops with greater resilience to harsh conditions. Director of U.C. Boulder’s BioServe Space Technologies Louis Stodieck expanded on the ambitious aims of this project and the ones to follow. “In the future, we plan for the crew to harvest and preserve the plants at different points in their grow-cycle, so we can analyze which metabolic pathways are turned on and turned off.”
With the rising impact of climate change unduly impacting certain regions, the benefit of such research can’t be overstated.

In the words of Stodieck, “this is a fascinating area of study that has considerable potential.”

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