Why Hemp Seeds Were Sent to Space on the SpaceX17 Mission

Hemp Seeds to Grow in Space

hemp seeds in space

Research is really stepping it up! This year, 2019, the first batch of hemp seeds was sent up in May on the SpaceX17 mission. And they are planning to do it again this coming spring of 2020. Many things are studied in space to see how humankind could benefit from it. Plants are nothing new but studying hemp seeds are.

Space has always been something that humans want to conquer. For years now, they are trying to find a new place to call home. Experimenting with plants makes perfect sense then and hemp seeds found its rightful place.

Why are Hemp seeds Chosen?

The agricultural technology company, Front Range Biosciences, concentrates on finding new plant varieties and seeds for the coffee and hemp industry. They formed a partnership with BioServe Space and Space Cells USA. They chose hemp because hemp is one of the most versatile plants on earth. It is cheap to grow and is very healthy. Besides, it leaves a negative carbon print.

As of yet, all plants are exposed to gravity on earth. The idea is to see how plants would do in space where there is no gravity at all. With previous research efforts where different plants were tested, it was discovered that the biological and physical processes of the plants were completely changed. One of the main objectives with hemp is to see how the cannabinoids in hemp would react in space. If positive breakthroughs could be discovered, or cannabinoids could be more effective, a greater impact on health could only be a benefit.

The plants will stay in space for a month. After that, it would be returned to earth to be analyzed. The focus will be particularly in the DNA of the plants. The effect of radiation and microgravity will also be studied.

What Would Microgravity do to Hemp Plants?

Because of the difference in atmosphere between Earth and space, astronauts staying in space for a while start showing loss of muscle mass. This is due to microgravity. Microgravity is a very weak state of gravity that is created inside space-orbiting bodies. Humans require muscles to perform many tasks on earth, but in space, very little muscle force is required. Plants are simpler than humans and therefore the results should be different. That is what researchers are also trying to find out.  

There is a group of scientists that believe that the building blocks of all life come from space. This is then one of the reasons why they would like to study plants in space. They want to know how plants react in a different environment and what altering effects would take place. They can also study the adaptations and learn how to apply them with regards to traits, characteristics, efficacy and health and biomedical applications.

What are the seeds exposed to in space?

Cultivations of plants in space are not new but sending cannabis plants to space is a breakthrough. Conditions in space are very different and much harsher than on earth. Seeds need to overcome cosmic and ultraviolet radiation exposure. Apart from the above-mentioned microgravity, they will also be under much lower pressure than on earth. Scientists expect plants to undergo various mutations. They hope to find these mutations holding up when they return to earth. The idea is to pass it on to future generations. It is especially interesting to see what the effect of these mutations could hold for medicinal purposes.

Why new variations?

Many different things will influence and impact plants when they are in space. Understanding an altered magnetic field and the ultra-vacuum in space, would not just help us understanding plant biology, but also how it could be applied to other scientific experiences. It could also bring answers to the possibility of living in space in the future. Everything looks very promising.

In a previous study in 2006, the Chinese studied plants grown on earth and then sent them to space. Unfortunately, the study was stopped before it could be fully evaluated. Over 140 plants were sent into space and even though the study was stopped prematurely, they found more than 50 new varieties. They were successfully planted, and the conclusion was that mutations in space have great potential.

Scientists are very excited to see what the effect of growing in space would do to the hemp plant. The plant as such is already very versatile. Discovering additional benefits would be the cherry on the top.

New Discoveries

Innovation is pushing us forward. The issues like climate change and rising temperatures have an effect on crop yields. Studying the growth of plants in space might help us here on earth how to deal with hostile environments. Hemp is the one plant that can contribute to climate change. Hemp is fast-growing and can be used for plastic and building materials, for providing food and medicinal benefits. Making hemp stronger and bigger is a win-win situation.

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