In March 2020, the International Space Station (ISS) will receive the payload from the next SpaceX resupply mission. This time, the private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, will have 480 coffee and hemp plant cell cultures onboard. The objective of agricultural technology company Front Range Biosciences, in collaboration with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies, is to observe how space radiation and microgravity affect the gene expression of the plants and/or cause the cell cultures to mutate.
The hemp and coffee will be kept on the ISS for approximately 30 days in a temperature regulated incubator before returning to Earth to be studied. Front Range Biosciences hopes that the research will provide further information on how space travel and its stresses affect plant life. This can help agricultural companies grow more resilient varieties of plants.
Adapting to the threat of climate change is certainly kept in mind during this mission. In a statement, Peter McCullagh, CEO of SpaceCells USA Inc., said, "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." He added, "We expect to prove through these and other missions that we can adapt the food supply to climate change."
"This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures," Jonathan Vaught, co-founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences 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.”
In the previous resupply mission by SpaceX, 40 mice, eight of which were genetically modified to have double the muscle mass, were sent to the ISS for a muscle and bone experiment. Also included were a group of 120,000 roundworms for an agricultural study and a robotic head with artificial intelligence capabilities to detect astronauts’ emotions.
Elon Musk made headlines in September 2018 after smoking marijuana with Joe Rogan on-air during The Joe Rogan Experience. Following the release of the podcast, Tesla stock dropped 9% and NASA launched an investigation into SpaceX’s company safety procedures, training processes and drug policies. Soon after, Musk sent an email to SpaceX employees apologizing for his behavior and outlined the company’s cannabis guidelines.
“SpaceX personnel may not use or possess any controlled substance while in the workplace, and also may not be under the influence of legal or illegal drugs while at work," Musk wrote. He added that “anyone who appears to be inebriated or under the influence while at work is subject to drug testing and potentially other employment actions.”