It wasn't long ago that SpaceX chief Elon Musk was criticized for smoking marijuana on Joe Rogan's podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. Now, Musk's team will be flying cannabis to the International Space Station (ISS).
In a planned flight in March, SpaceX will be bringing cargo to the ISS. In addition to its regular payload, the cargo will also include hemp and coffee, Newsweek reports, after talking to the companies behind the decision. According to the report, Front Range Biosciences is partnering with SpaceCells USA and BioServe Space Technologies to determine whether space travel and the environment in space in any way genetically mutate the plants.
Hemp is a federally legal strain of cannabis that's used in a variety of ways, including in clothing, shoes, rope, and more. It has an extremely low level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which means it can't produce the psychoactive effects common in marijuana. On a federal level, marijuana is still illegal. Some states, however, have made it legal for recreational use, medicinal use, or both.
Bringing hemp and coffee cell cultures to space could have important and profound effects on our broader understanding of agriculture. Chiefly, the scientists want to know whether space in some way materially affects the plants and how they can be used in the future for a variety of products. Certain beneficial changes could create new discoveries in plant-based products.
Similarly, the scientists told Newsweek that they want to examine the plants when they get back to Earth to determine whether they can genetically modify them to grow in harsher environments. Indeed, the researchers hope that they can develop ways to ensure plants can survive in different environments as climate change further impacts the world. A trusted plant-based food source at that time could be critical.
To achieve that and get some real insight, however, the plants will need to be in space for 30 days. The scientists are sending 480 plant cultures into orbit and then evaluating the plants when they return to the planet.
For its part, SpaceX is acting as little more than the courier, bringing the plants to and from space. The researchers were quick to note, however, that if their efforts are successful, many more plant-based trials will be conducted aboard SpaceX vehicles to develop hardier plants.