Hemp and coffee samples are hitching a ride into space on Elon Musk’s SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight. In addition to its regular payload, the cargo, lifting off in March 2020, will also carry Java and pot cultures to the International Space Station. 

The shipment of 480 coffee and hemp plant cell cultures is being sent to the ISS by agricultural biotech company Front Range Biosciences, which has teamed up with tech startup SpaceCells and BioServe Space Technologies — a research institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder — to determine whether a hostile environment will cause any genetic mutation in the plants. 

The plant cultures will spend a month in an incubator aboard the ISS, while BioServe monitors their condition from its operations center on Earth. Once the hemp and coffee samples are back on our planet, Front Range Biosciences will check how exposure to space radiation and microgravity has influenced the genetic makeup of the plants. 

Dr. Jonathan Vaught, Co-Founder and CEO of FRB, stated in a press release that even though science backs up claims that spaceflight and microgravity affect plants, this research is the first to test whether genetic mutations will hold up once the samples are back on Earth, as well as explore commercial applications

Research of this kind could provide valuable insight into how plants can be grown in hostile environments, which could come in handy on Earth as climate change continues to impact the planet, as well as the cultivation conditions becoming ever harsher. 

FRB, SpaceCell, and BioServe hope to do many more projects involving plant growth in space. 

Although a first for cannabis and coffee, the ISS has seen plenty of strange experiments being carried out, such as Budweiser sending barley seeds to be grown on the station and NASA shipping flatwork to test how gravity impacts organ and nerve regeneration. 

SpaceX will only serve as a carrier of the cargo to the ISS, and, so far, Elon Musk has not commented on the mission in question. The head of the company made cannabis news last year when he famously lit up a joint during an interview on The Joe Rogan Experience. The incident and subsequent criticism prompted Musk to warn his employees against using cannabis in the workplace.   

There’s no need for warning in this situation as the hemp plant cell samples shipped to the ISS do not contain any THC — the psychedelic compound of the cannabis plant. 

Hopefully, the results of this experiment will lead to a breakthrough and an improved version of the two substances that almost every adult around the world is hooked on.