International Space Station

Colorado-based biotech company Front Range Biosciences strives to partner next-level scientific research with the growth of popular crops – including both coffee and hemp. Recently, representatives for Front Range Biosciences announced the company’s plans to join Space Cells and the University of Colorado Boulder for an exciting research opportunity taking shape over the coming months. Through their professional partnership, the organizations will collectively cultivate and send over 480 plant cell cultures into space via an upcoming SpaceX cargo flight. The mission is due to launch sometime in March of 2020, with the primary aim of supplementing essential resources for astronauts docked at the rocket’s destination on the International Space Station.

Hemp was made federally legal just over a year ago, with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill last November. As many our broad spectrum hemp-infused sparkling soda fans know, hemp isn’t known to produce intoxicating effects in its users – starkly differentiating hemp from the widely known (and sometimes confused) psychoactive forms of the cannabis plant.

Hemp’s legislative approval is owed in large part to the tireless advocacy of its many vocal supporters, who emphasized the diverse range of hemp’s potential benefits. There are countless reasons to get excited about hemp, from its broad range of textile and material applicability, to numerous environmental advantages from its yield per expended resources, as compared to other major sources like cotton and wood.

Together, these three organizations have made the historic decision to fly hemp and coffee cultures beyond Earth’s atmosphere. The co-founder and CEO of SpaceX, Jonathan Vaught, spoke to the significance of their upcoming project. “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.” Perhaps most notably, says Vaught, “this is the first time anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures.”

The SpaceX mission’s primary goal is to restock essential supplies for astronauts who presently live on base at the International Space Station.

Once the upcoming spacecraft has landed at the International Space Station, it will remain there for a month before beginning the return journey back to Earth. Front Range Biosciences will then closely examine the DNA of the hemp and coffee cultures after their round-trip through the atmosphere. With this research, they hope to expand upon scientific understanding of microgravity and radiation, and the respective impacts of each on the cellular makeup of hemp and coffee.

Reggie Gaudino, Front Range Biosciences’ vice president of research and development, says that the study’s findings will affect growth and breeding decisions in the company’s future endeavors. “We are excited to learn more about both hemp and coffee gene expression,” emphasized Gaudino.

SpaceX’s upcoming cargo flight is innovative in its aim, and the specific undertaking of these scientific partners is unprecedented. However, others have worked with a similar vision in mind. High Times and Seed Hub joined together in 2013, in an attempt to elevate the cannabis plant to new heights. They loaded a weather balloon with a small marijuana plant, a joint, and ninety-five cannabis seeds. The balloon was then launched almost 20 miles upward, and the contents were examined closely upon its return.

SpaceX previously paired with a Kentucky-based organization to launch hemp seeds into the galaxy, and proceeded to grow the seeds once they’d returned – all in the name of scientific research. The results of their joint mission are yet to be revealed to the public.

Sent to Space has also been involved in projects of a similar aim, prior to their professional collaboration on the March 2020 expedition. Together with Herban Planet, an American-based dispensary chain, they used a weather balloon to launch a thin-mint flavored strain of cannabis 131,000 feet above the surface of the Earth in 2013.

Coffee and hemp’s travels through space are interesting to envision, regardless of the reason for their voyage. But what is the greater goal of this upcoming venture? Primarily, the project aims to build our understanding of the effects of extreme atmospheric changes on the processes inherent to cellular development and plant growth. Such research can subsequently be used to breed and grow plant types with increased resiliency to difficult growth conditions. This can help combat the global epidemic of hunger, especially in regions with greater climate extremes.

Louis Stodieck, as the Dirctor of Bioserve Space Technologies at the University of Colorado Boulder, spoke to the organization’s greater goals. “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.”

The potential impact of this revolutionary project has us raising our CBD soda cans in tribute. As Stodieck stated, “this is a fascinating area of study that has considerable potential.”

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