Watch Hemp Launch Into Space Tonight On A SpaceX Rocket
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Hemp might not get you high, but it's about to go really high, some 220 miles above the earth, as cargo aboard a SpaceX CRS-20 en route to the International Space Station.
The journey to the final frontier is part of a mission to transport plant cultures to space to examine the effects of zero gravity on plant gene expression. Coffee will also be joining hemp plant cell cultures on the ride.
The mission is a partnership between Front Range Biosciences (FRB), an agricultural technology company focused on breeding and nursery production of new plant varieties and seeds for the hemp and coffee industries, SpaceCells USA Inc, BioServe Space Technologies, and the University of Colorado Boulder.
Liftoff is scheduled for tonight at the Kennedy Space Center at 4:50 a.m. UTC, weather permitting.
What to expect
Up to 480 hemp and coffee plant cell cultures will live in four space-made Plate Habitats (PHabs) for approximately 31 days under the care of astronauts. The environmental conditions for the cultures will be monitored remotely from BioServe's operations center at the University of Colorado Boulder. After the incubation period, the PHabs will be transferred back to the SpaceX Dragon capsule and returned to Earth, where researchers at FRB will examine the plant samples to determine how microgravity and different stressors altered gene expression in the cell cultures. These cell culture samples will also be regenerated and grown out to maturity to examine any changes throughout their lifecycle. Four other PHab incubators will be kept at FRB labs in California as a control group throughout the mission.
“We are excited to discover whether any potential changes in the underlying biology of hemp and coffee plants in microgravity will enable us to unlock new traits with commercial applications in our breeding program," says Dr. Jonathan Vaught, Co-founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences.
Why hemp, why space?
Of all the plant tissue out there, why are scientists testing hemp 220 miles away from Earth? It has something to do with economics and climate change.
"Farmers are continuously searching for sustainable and cost-effective technological solutions to climate change and the rising cost of labor,” says Dr. Vaught. "FRB looks forward to applying the findings of this study to further increase the value and quality of our plant products and, in turn, help farmers around the world maximize their yields and profits.”
Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells USA Inc., echoes this optimism. “This mission takes us one step closer to proving the amazing changes that are possible in space," he says.
In other words, it's one small step for man, but a giant leap for hempkind.
To watch the SpaceX CRS-20 launch in real-time, visit https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive