[Takes huge bong rip] What if, like, we grew coffee… in space?
This is the question space cadets—both literal and medicinal—have been trying to answer for ages, and we may soon know. Earlier this month Front Range Biosciences (FRB), “an agricultural technology company focused on breeding and nursery production of new plant varieties and seeds for the hemp and coffee industries,” announced they were launching hemp and coffee cell cultures into space.
Per a press release, FRB teamed up with SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado Boulder to send 480 hemp and coffee plant cultures into outer space in the wee hours of Saturday, March 7th, where they have set a course for the International Space Station. There, the plants will reside in “space-made Plate Habitats (PHabs) housed in a temperature-regulated incubator for approximately 31 days under the care of U.S. ISS astronauts,” where they will be remotely monitored at UC Boulder by BioServe. After their tour, the plants will be returned to Earth via a SpaceX Dragon capsule to be examine by FRB in hopes of “[determining] how microgravity and different stressors altered gene expression in the cell cultures.”
The goal of this expedition, per FRB’s co-founder and CEO Dr. Jonathan Vaught, is to see how changes in gravity affect gene expression:
We are excited to discover whether any potential changes in the underlying biology of hemp and coffee plants in microgravity will enable us to unlock new traits with commercial applications in our breeding program. We are proud to be a part of this groundbreaking collaborative effort and look forward to the plants coming back to earth where we can use the data to make some exciting discoveries.
The effects of significantly reduced gravity on coffee plant tissue remain to be seen. SpaceCells USA CEO Peter McCullagh believes that “amazing changes” are possibly in space, but we really don’t know what they are. Will the uber high elevation yield the best coffees? Will it accidentally be inoculated with some space bacteria, creating an entirely new processing method that imparts flavors of the vast infinitude? Or maybe all the plants will die cold and alone. We won’t know until the specimens return from orbit. One thing is for certain, though, and it’s that there is right now a Barista Championship competitor building an entire 2021 routine around the concept of space coffee. Aaaaaaand time. Hello, Space Judges…
Top image via New Atlas