The high-flying scientists who devote months and sometimes years of their lives to conducting science in space will be getting a very special package in early 2020. The next SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station will be carrying something with a sketchy legal history: cannabis.
Now, before you go imagining astronauts dabbling in mind-altering substances while cruising through space, you should know that it’s nothing like that. The ISS will instead be receiving cultures of hemp, which is the form of cannabis with very little THC, and is valued primarily for its industrial qualities.
The experiment will require that the cannabis cultures remain in the microgravity environment of the International Space Station for a month. Coffee cultures will also be along for the ride. Scientists from Front Range Biosciences will observe how the low gravity changes the cultures, monitoring them remotely from Earth. After the month is up, the samples will return to Earth along with SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spacecraft.
“This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures,” Front Range Biosciences CEO Dr. Jonathan Vaught said in a statement. “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 company says that research such as this can aid in the development of crops that are resistant to various environmental factors. With climate change looming, it’s a way for researchers to advance their understanding of how plants adapt, and perhaps even lead to new breeding efforts and hardier crops.