The next SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for March, 2020, will come with a new addition to its cargo: 480 plant cell cultures of hemp and coffee. The hemp is a variety of marijuana with very low levels of THC. The shipment is part of the mission of agricultural technology company Front Range Biosciences in collaboration with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies, which aim to determine whether the microgravity and exposure to space radiation will cause the cell cultures to mutate.
Per Newsweek, the cultures of marijuana will be kept in an incubator with temperature regulation capabilities on the ISS for approximately 30 days before returning to Earth. From there, Front Range Biosciences researchers will put them under the microscope and determine whether the conditions of space affected gene expression.
Jonathan Vaught, co-founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences, released a statement on the unique experiment.
"This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures. 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."The data could help reveal how plants are affected by the stress involved in space travel and help researchers create new varieties that can survive harsher conditions — something that could help plants on Earth that stop thriving in their natural environment amid climate change.
"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," Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells, said in a statement. "We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change."
SpaceX's last payload included 40 mice for a muscle and bone experiment; eight were genetically engineered to double their muscle mass. The payload also included 120,000 roundworms for an agricultural study, International Business Times reported. In addition, the cargo included a large robot head that was able to sense astronauts' emotions via its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.SpaceX's founder and CEO, Elon Musk, notoriously appeared Joe Rogan's podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, and smoked marijuana during the live broadcast. Mashable reports that Musk later admitted that he should not have smoked the drug on the show. The incident prompted NASA to launch an investigation into SpaceX to examine the company's safety procedures, drug policies, and training.